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UK.gov preps bonfire of the vanity websites

Web consultants and Keith Chegwin are toast

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Hundreds of taxpayer-funded websites will be unplugged in a savings drive that the government says will cut millions from departmental budgets.

A Cabinet Office review launched today aims to identify 75 per cent of the government's 820 websites for closure by September. The surviving services will be required to slash their costs by up to 50 per cent by sharing resources and infrastructure.

The announcement of the cull comes alongside a report by the Central Office of Information (COI), Whitehall's communications agency, that found £94m has been spent setting up or maintaining just 46 websites in the last year alone. A further £32m went on their staff.

COI said the most expensive government website is uktradeinvest.gov.uk, an export information service, which costs £11.78 per visit. Business Link, "the official government website for businesses of all sizes", costs £2.15 a hit.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister responsible for IT across government, said: "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."

Under the new regime no new websites will be allowed except by the special permission of an efficiency board run by the Cabinet Office and the Treasury.

The Cabinet Office today also identified areas where taxpayers have paid for government web units to compete with each each other. It gave a mention to The Register's story earlier this year of how the Department of Energy and Climate Change was bidding against an energy saving quango for Google keywords, driving costs up.

The conflicting messages of the Department of Health's Change4Life campaign and the Potato Marketing Board's lovechips.co.uk - fronted by Keith Chegwin - were also highlighted.

Maude said: "Going forward I will be working with internet entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox, our new Digital Champion, on how we further transform government websites as part of our drive to put key public services online and to increase the number of people who are able to use the internet.

"She will also look at sharing resources and facilities and using low-cost open source products to reduce running costs." ®

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