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Freedom of Information research finds councils spending on IT spiralling out of control

A Freedom of Information investigation into the cost of designing and maintaining local government websites has found a wide discrepancy between what councils are paying. The investigation also found that in some cases the councils could have saved thousands of pounds if they’d outsourced the work.

A Freedom of Information investigation into the cost of designing and maintaining local government websites has found a wide discrepancy between what councils are paying. The investigation also found that in some cases the councils could have saved thousands of pounds if they’d outsourced the work.

Researches at Freelancer.co.uk, a business outsourcing website, found that councils were paying thousands of pounds more than many businesses, who are more willing to shop around for a better deal.

The investigation asked councils for costs of website design. There was wide a range of prices cited by the councils. Birmingham City Council spent £3.003 million on the building of a new website, while Leeds City Council said it spent £1,825,101 on a major redesign, while Bournemouth Council spent £198,500 over two years to redevelop its website.

Yet the researches then posted a job requesting quotes to reproduce the council websites on an outsourcing site, Freelancer.co.uk. The site has seen a 19% increase recently in UK business outsourcing website design and programming on its site.

The quotes came in at much lower prices ranging starting at £2500. Many businesses pay much lower prices for their websites, often less than £900.

The Freedom of Information investigation also found that there was a wide discrepancy in on-going costs that councils are paying to maintain their websites. Over a three-year period, costs ranged from over a million pounds paid by Hertfordshire Council, £437,000 by Plymouth Council, yet Durham council only paid £152,400 for the same period for such services as website support and maintenance and content management.

In a worrying move, some councils, such as Westminster and Manchester City Council, refused to give information saying that it would be too expensive to find it. While Glasgow City Council claimed it did not have the information after 2008 because web services since then have been delivered in a joint venture with Serco called ACCESS. Under Section 17 of the ACT it said it was not required to ask Serco for this information, raising questions about its own ability to oversee the cost of the services. It did say that the contract with Serco, which includes property management has a total value of £265 million.

“The investigation has found that local government is paying too much time and time again for website services that can be delivered much cheaper if they only were willing to outsource. Businesses around the country are able to get sophisticated websites designed, built and maintained at a fraction of the cost,” said Bill Little, European Director for Freelancer.co.uk.

“Businesses that have to keep a tighter control on costs are more likely to shop around and get a better deal. Many of these councils at a time of deep public spending cuts are still spending more than they should be,” he said.

“Outsourcing keeps quality high. All of the freelancers bidding on work are all reviewed ensuring high standards,” he said.