Three-quarters of government websites to go in cost cuts

A major review of 820 government-funded websites is now underway, as the coalition reveals details of high expense and competition between the sites
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on

The Cabinet Office is to review the government's hundreds of websites in a bid to cut costs in an attempt to help meet the £6.2bn in cuts promised by the coalition.

According to a statement from the Cabinet Office on Friday, the 820 government-funded websites will be reviewed to look at "cost, usage and whether they could share resources better". In addition, no new websites will be permitted unless they are "special cases".

The government expects to shut down 75 percent of the existing sites and halve the costs of the remainder and "move onto common infrastructures". According to a Central Office for Information (COI) report published on Friday, from 2009-10, the 46 websites that were surveyed cost £94m to set up and run and £32m to staff.

"This government is completely committed to getting the government web back under control," Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said in the statement. "The days of 'vanity' sites are over. It is not good enough to have websites which do not deliver the high-quality services which people expect and deserve. That is why we will take tough action to get rid of those which are not up to the job and do not offer good value for money and introduce strict guidelines for those that remain."

The COI found that the three most expensive websites are, in order, uktradeinvest.gov.uk (£11.78 per visit), businesslink.gov.uk (£2.15 per visit), and research4development.info (87p per visit). The cheapest is defra.gov.uk, at 2p per visit. Thirteen of the websites surveyed cost less than 10p per visit.

The Cabinet Office said it has anecdotal evidence of where money has been wasted because of competition between departments.

"Examples include [the] Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Energy Saving Trust (EST) bidding against each other for Google search terms, and some quango websites competing with central government ones, for example, the Potato Marketing Board's lovechips.co.uk competing against the Department of Health's Change4Life campaign on healthy lifestyle," it said.

'Digital champion' Martha Lane Fox will work with Maude to transform governmental websites to put key public services online and to increase the number of people who are able to use the internet.

In February, the previous government said it had closed 907 of its 1,700 websites and would close a further 479. The Cabinet Office's Friday announcement stated that the Labour government had pledged to close 422 websites, but a spokesman was unable to explain the disparity in figures late on Friday.

According to the Cabinet Office's statement, only 24 of the 422 sites were shut, and "more sites have since been discovered and so the present total number of government websites is 820".

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