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UK government websites out of control

How many sites? We're sorry we haven't a clue

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The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts has released its report into government websites, and it is not impressed.

It found the Government is not sure exactly how many websites it has, but believes there could be as many as 2,500. Nor does it know how much these websites costs or if anyone is using them.

Total expenditure is believed to be in the region of £208m a year on providing information and services online. One in four government organisations could not provide the Committee with information on how much their websites were costing.

Of the three quarters which could provide information 40 per cent said it was only an estimate. The Committee recomends the Government's chief information officer set a standard set of measures for the cost of websites so that actual cost and efficiency could be measured. Since the Government does not know how much it is saving by using the internet, it cannot make money available to other channels for people who are not accessing government websites.

Many .gov websites are well regarded by the public, but there has been only slight improvement since 2002 - the last time the Committee looked at them.

One third of sites do not meet accessibility standards for those with disabilities - the Committee wants this fixed by 2011.

The Committee complained that 16 per cent of government websites have no information on who is using them - it wants this fixed by the end of 2008/2009.

The Committee is also concerned that the push to provide services online will further exclude those without surfing skills or access to the internet - 51 per cent of those on low incomes do not access the internet. The Government also needs to decide how it will deal with people contacting them on behalf of friends or relatives.

The Government intends to move most services to within direct.gov.uk and businesslink - it aims to close 951 websites by 2011. The Committee recomends that no new government websites should be set up without permission from the Government's CIO.

The Government's use of search functions is also criticised - there is no ability to search across Government websites. The Committee heard the Cabinet Office is working with Google to fix this.

The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts report Government on the Internet: Progress in the Delivering of Information and Services Online is available as a pdf here.

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