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Revealed: Public sector's web gravy train

Councils spend like there's no tomorrow. Maybe there isn't

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Even printing money might not save the Web 2.0 gravy train from hitting the buffers. Data released through Freedom of Information requests shows that the average council spent twelve times as much money as the average UK business on websites. And despite the recession, council spending on external web gurus actually rose in 2009.

Examples include Norfolk (the number two spender) splashing out £94,220 for its schools website. Knowsley council made a trip to the strategy boutique, burning through £225,000 "to cover the complete redesign and redevelopment of the Knowsley Council web solution". North Yorkshire County Council splashed out over six figures on a CMS for its "corporate" websites. Cambridgeshire spent £36,000 on a user experience consultant.

At the other end of the scale, Durham Council spent £711 on domain name registration. Individual org.uk domains can be registered for £2.97 each per year - there are discounts for bulk registrations.

Surprisingly many of the sites are mostly static information pages - there's very little transactional work. The hosting costs paid by councils might also raise eyebrows.

Topping the list for the years 2007-2009 were Westminster City Council, followed by Barking and Dagenham, Norfolk and Harringey. In total, councils spent £19.1m on web services, up from £16.1m the previous year.

The figures were obtained by small business jobs site PeoplePerHour, and don't include in-house IT teams, which are already large. Around 70 per cent of councils provided data.

"IT service suppliers to local councils, NHS Trusts and other public services are getting a great deal at taxpayers’ expense," reckons PeoplePerHour chief executive Xenios Thrasyvoulou.

The irony here is that web services really do promise to make large chunks of the bureaucracy redundant. In the old dot.com language, they "disintermediate", or cut out the middle man. So the quest for both IT consultants and web wonks, and bureaucrats alike is to make themselves indispensable.

But with the private sector showing how to "do the web" much more cheaply and efficiently, the end of the gravy train may not be far away. ®

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