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Cabinet Office allocates £1.6m for single government domain

Alpha.gov.uk team nervously awaits 2012 sign-off

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The Cabinet Office is spending a further £1.6m on a single government domain that has yet to be signed off by the government.

A rough-around-the-edges test of the Alpha.gov.uk project ended last week, after the Cabinet Office injected an initial £261,000 into the test build website that is intended as a would-be successor to New Labour's Directgov.

Francis Maude's department has now confirmed that the team behind the single government domain, which is based on recommendations from an independent report from digerati darling Martha Lane Fox, will now be working behind closed doors on a beta version of the site.

Fox, of course, has been leading Whitehall's marketing campaign to drag as many services as possible under the central government umbrella with the view to making big savings.

She claimed in her strategic review of Directgov late last year that an estimated £65m per year on web estate expenditure could be shaved off the £130m annual figure currently handed out for government public services' sites.

"The beta stage of development will test a much wider range of features than the alpha stage and will focus on understanding and meeting user needs," said the Cabinet Office this morning.

It said the planned single government domain would "build on the benefits of Direct.gov".

Shoving public services under one online banner is the Cabinet Office's goal. It's something that the previous Labour administration failed to achieve, which left hundreds of individual government websites marooned without a place to call home on the internet.

In the dying days of the Labour government, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown talked of plans to create a personalised web page for every UK citizen to access all public services online in a single location, which had in fact been the original plan for Directgov.

But Brown's "Mygov" centralised dashboard, which was supposed to help save money by cutting face-to-face services, never materialised.

Instead, Maude's Cabinet Office says it has inherited hundreds of individual websites that need maintaining – at a total cost of £130m per year.

Cue Maude's latest money, money, money comment.

"We have been clear that the days of vanity websites are over – we have radically reduced the number of existing websites and introduced strict rules for those that remain," he said.

"We believe that government use of the web must not only be useful, it must be cost-effective."

Like Alpha.gov.uk, the beta version of the single government domain will initially be developed behind closed doors, with public testing not expected to happen until early next year.

Only at that point will a decision be made about whether the project has proved successful enough to gear it up for showtime or if it will, like Brown's Mygov, end up on the cutting room floor. ®

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