Government reviews hundreds of 'unnecessary' websites

Image caption,
A third of its sites did not comply with the government's own net standards.

The government is to conduct a review of all 820 of its websites, Cabinet Minister Francis Maude has announced.

A report by the Central Office of Information has revealed that the government spent £94m on website development and running costs and £32m on web staff in 2009 - 2010.

The UK Trade and Investment website averaged 28,000 users per month but cost over £4m to build said the COI.

Each site visitor cost the government £11.78 according to the figures.

Around 16% of government departments did not know how their own websites were being used by tax payers, and almost a quarter were not aware of the running costs, according to the COI report.

In 2007 the BBC reported that the government was to axe 551 websites, protecting 26 from closure.

"Only 24 sites have been reported as closed and more sites have since been discovered and so the present total number of government websites is 820," said Francis Maude.

"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."

Mr Maude will be working with Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox on the review.

In a statement the government also cited "anecdotal evidence" of departments bidding against each other for search terms on Google.

The most cost efficient government websites included that of the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs which cost 2p per visit, Revenue and Customs at 11p and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport at 5p per visit.

The NHS website averaged over 6m users per month. It reported non-staff costs to date of over £21m not including £5m spent on "marketing and customer relations" in 2009.

'Putting services online is not only more efficient, but often it is cheaper as well," said Tessa Jowell, Labour MP and former cabinet office minister.

"The measures announced today run the risk of being a wholly false economy, and may end up costing the Government more money than it is looking to save," she said.

"In the last two years, the Labour Government already reviewed 1,795 websites, of which more than 1,000 have already been closed," added Ms Jowell.

The BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones said the initiative was an attempt to get a grip on the "spiralling" costs of websites.

He added: "What will be difficult is to push ahead with the process of putting more government services online while still cutting the costs of sites."

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