Revealed: Public sector's web gravy train
Councils spend like there's no tomorrow. Maybe there isn't
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. ®
Apples, oranges and catch 22
"Durham Council spent £711 on domain name registration. Individual org.uk domains can be registered for £2.97 each per year"
You're comparing apples and oranges here. Org.uk domains are cheap, and anyone can register one. Gov.uk domains are £100+VAT and have to meet other stringent criteria that private sector organisations are not held to. For further information, look at http://www.hcidata.co.uk/register-dot-gov-dot-uk.htm
Councils are in a catch 22 situation. If they directly employ experienced IT people, they're criticised for adding to the "bloated" public sector payroll with comments such as "The figures...don't include in-house IT teams, which are already large." When they replace the in-house knowledge with external consultants, they're vulnerable to getting ripped off.
Councils also suffer from "A penny saved is a penny lost from next year's budget" - something that also plagues the private sector. Instead of being incentivised to make savings, council departments will spend their entire budget so they don't end up with less next year.
As for the article source, PeoplePerHour wouldn't have a vested interest in exposing this, would they?
Please look at the scale
What are you comparing a council to?
If you do like-for-like comparisons between a county council with maybe 30,000 workers serving around 400,000 households with 850,000 residents (these are the approximate figures for Norfolk) against a corporation with 30,000 employees and close on a million customers, I think that the figures may be surprising.
How much do you think that a small bank, or possibly IBM UK spend on their web sites. I'm sure that the comparison would be very interesting. I would not be surprised if the councils spend less.
And look at the services they are being forced to supply (by government regulation) on the web, even if only to tell people their rights and entitlements. Housing, social services, schools, care provision, refuse collection, environmental health, roads, planning, enforcement of regulations, business rates, council tax, court services, local business development. And I'm sure I've missed many out. All the information has to be correct within guidelines.
It's a big, big problem that is quite beyond the experience of most people to comprehend (and probably most councils). This leads to the problem being treated as an elephant task, one bit at a time, which as we all know leads to inefficiencies.
Southwest One is an example where private-sector companies come in and manage to spend more money doing less than the councils ever did.
TFA misses the point
Sonds like TFA is missing the point. This isn't public bureaucrats enjoying a gravy train, it is private consutants ripping them off.
TFA concludes : "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.
No, it is the private sector who are kidding the councils into paying too much. That's hardly "showing the way". It is not in the private sector's interest to show the way. Do you think they are going to say "Btw, you don't need to pay me £700 to get you a domain name, you can get one straight from www.lcn.com for less than a fiver"
Council staff just need spanking with a clue bat.