back to article How can spend £35m on a website?

The Central Office of Information (COI), the UK Government's centre of excellence for marketing and communications, has just published a report on the costs, usability and quality of selected UK Government websites in 2009-10. It's a detailed report and the data is available to download. It shows how the UK Government spent £ …


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  1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    What was that title...?

    "How can spend £35m on a website?...Here's how..."

    Only you DON'T tell us how!. You just say that that's what they spent.

    If you have done a lot of in-depth research - where's the detailed costings...?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Did you rad the article ?

      If you had actually read this well written article you'd have seen that the costing research was not his own, but the published results for last financial year from the Central Office of Information.

      This was on the first line btw, which really proves you did not read the article.

    2. Disco-Legend-Zeke

      More Importantly... can i get MY customers to spend 3 megabucks or so.

    3. Gaius


      ... the bulk of the cash went straight into the pockets of Guardian-reading Shoreditch-dwelling muesli-munching Nu Meeja "consultants".

      1. Jolyon


        Obviously as in 'it's there in the figures' or obviously as in 'it's there in your head' ?

        Do we have the information about which companies benefitted from this extravagant spending?

  2. Leeroy
    Thumb Down

    Standards across sites.....

    .. are also a bit naff. You would think that they could condense a lot of the information in to fewer more useful sites instead of providing small bits of information on each one and making you search for everything you need........ Sounds just like the fragmented gov agencies i have to deal with over the phone that can do bits of what you need but then give you another number or transfer you somewhere else to try and complete your needs.

    Very poor showing especially now that VAT returns must be done online, how long till they screw that up :(

  3. Dirk Vandenheuvel


    >in that over 60 per cent of all websites are based on Apache

    Seriously... you should know that statistics mean nothing. 60% of all websites... and probably 95% of "all" those websites are irrelevant placeholders or total statical nonsense.

    Anyway.. back to our regular bashing...

    1. Mark Aggleton


      Not only that - I bet it's 60% of public facing web-sites. I'd bet that the proportions would be completely different if you were to include sites for web based apps within companies. Also - how can you assume that microsites linked from a main site would be hoted on the same architecture?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good article.

    Interesting and well written.

    My only complaint is that I don't like the segue into the pitch. It's not that it seems disingenuous or anything; more that it breaks the stride of the article. Maybe stick such things in a break out box? It would separate the article from the pitch while drawing more attention to the latter (as, in this case, the author deserves - I'm assuming he's not getting paid).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good article.

      Paul Walsh posted the article on his own website. We liked it and asked if we could republish. No money changed hands.

      We will put a disclaimer at the bottom.

  5. Shady

    How can spend £35m on a website?

    Quite easily, if the snake-oil merchants I have to work with had anything to do with it.

    <- and a curry, after a hard sell.

    1. Pete 2 Silver badge

      Ans: meetings - lots of 'em

      Let's start with a weekly progress meeting. Invite the whole team, say 30 people (incl. _both_ developers). Reckon on funny money hourly charging at an extremely cheap £50/hour. That's 3 grand for a 2 hour meeting. Over a year and you've "spent" £150k without actually doing any work. Now if each team member has to attend another 2 meetings each week, you're close to half a mil'

      Since your staff spend so much time in meetings they are pushed for time to do real work. So you have to bring in consultants - lets say £1k / day each. 5 of them for a year is another £1.25M.

      We all know that the more people you put on a project, the longer it takes, so a project planned for 1 year now takes 2. Double all your people costs and viola! £35M down the tubes without even trying.

      1. LordBrian

        Nailed it

        Having worked on large gov projects all i can say is you nailed it....

  6. Gerrit Hoekstra

    Fire the whole lot o'em!

    I strongly suspect the values quoted were unfairly (and impossibly so) attributed to websites because there were no other tangible assets or services to attribute the cost of 1,400 so-called communications staff in Whitehall, who mysteriously appeared from nowhere during the previous government.

    There is no fixing such a wastful culture. Fire 'em all ASAP.

    1. Gerrit Hoekstra

      It's actually 3200 "press officers", not 1400.

      And Prescott had his snout in the trough, too.

  7. Andres

    So obvious

    "Free & Open Source Software won't matter when a Consultancy or Outsourcing company loads up a contract with tasks requiring many person weeks of expensive billable time."

    I am both filled with real anger at the way our naive gov depts are so easily plucked by wily consultancies, and real jealousy at not having the opportunity to indulge in such easy practise myself. It is so easy to imagine the hapless civil servants being fired lots of powerpoints and buzzwords, and not having a budget to manage on pain of redundancy, signing open-ended contracts for work that would take an average coder a weekend to complete.

  8. b1tchell
    Black Helicopters

    As they said in Independence Day

    President: I don't understand, where does all this come from? How do you get funding for something like this?

    Julius: You don't actually think they spend $20,000 on a hammer, $30,000 on a toilet seat, do you?

    Same rules apply me thinks :-)

  9. Richard Fletcher

    Here's why it's so expensive.

    Why does a website cost £35m? Here's the answers

    1) The website is possibly the main public face of the organisation. Therefore it's important.

    2) Because it is important one needs to consult

    3) Because it is a consultation there are many meetings, involving many high-level civil servants, costing tens of thousands of pounds in man hours

    4) Because the initial planning alone cost tens of thousands of pounds there is absolutely no way the website can come to less. People paid as well as this can't be wasting there time with projects whose budget is smaller than the incidental costs.

    5) The bigger the cost, the more planning, the more planning the more blame when things go wrong is diluted into a myriad of individuals. Big is safe.

    And also

    6) Because the people who want the website probably don't know what it should do or how, but they do know that they should know. As a result all the expensive planning is poor.

    The outcome of this process is that people like me who have traded successfully in the private sector for years have no chance in the public sector which simply refuses to believe that a website can be built by a small team, or often, an individual.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Oh, emm, consulting..

      You do realise that a consultancy that sells a "self brewed" CMS is able to earn a lot more hourly fees than one that does the right thing and adjusts an Open Source CMS to perform duty? I assume you realise that exactly those consultancies are asked to provide a solution..

      Late 1990s all the various websites running on a ridiculously aged and costly set of platforms were consolidated by one man (Google for "queen's webmaster mick morgan") for, well, peanuts. The man and his staff knew what they were doing, and nobody noticed it until some net survey discovered the queen's website ran on Linux.

      However, with New Labour came the Microsoft friends who had to be rescued again and again from the deep holes they dug for themselves, and the reason anything worked at all as predicted was due to doubling up on consultants to drag those idiots out of their own failures. So, in summary, everyone was happily emptying the trough for all it was worth by deliberately using inappropriate technology.

      It's easy to explain a lot of things if you simply follow the money..

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Flawed process, but reasonable conclusion

    OK, its a short article, but the assumptions stated don't work.

    Just because the site says its Apache, doesn't mean its Unix/Open source all the way, maybe its front ended by Apache cache servers but has Microsoft application servers. Maybe there is a commercial CMS on there even if its unix hosted.

    How are you sure there is no CMS, because I know of a few in existence on those sites that you have NOT mentioned. Just because the typical CMS signature is not there does not mean its not CMS driven (especially if its a good/heavily customised templates)

    Also some of the best sites wont tell you anything as they wont leak OS information because it provides attackers useful info. It would be nice to mention them.

    That said its all a lot of money and id like to see a bit (ok a lot) more open source used.

  11. Peet McKimmie

    Were the Microsoft based websites more expensive than the Open Source based ones?

    Being Government-run sites, it wouldn't surprise me if each was developed by a different team who have no contact with the developers of previous sites, and that every team purchased a full-price, complete set of web development "tools" from Micro$oft. Plus, probably, a full set of "Dummies" books on how to use them.

    1. Dapprman

      From the article

      I believe the report said no - or at least to no significant level.

  12. JMiles

    Shameless advertising

    "Free & Open Source Software won't matter when a Consultancy or Outsourcing company loads up a contract with tasks requiring many person weeks of expensive billable time."

    True, but a lot of consulting time is also spent not on techies but also on project managers, programme managers, business analysts, enterprise architects and a whole manner of surrounding areas. These guys are often there to solve business problems, not technical ones.

    "If there isn't a FOSS advantage, there's still clearly a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) advantage."

    Says who? What do you base this on? As I said earlier, a lot of consulting time goes into doing tasks which would be done regardless of whether an off-the-shelf product was used - .e.g. a business analyst will still have to figure out business needs.

    "One of the main purposes of these sites (apart from serving static information pages) is to provide a portal for file download."

    Is that in the report or is it an assumption?

    "Commercial open source software packages such as CogniDox allow you to do this in a completely secure and flexible manner. It costs thousands of pounds, not millions, and it delivers those features out of the box. And it has competitors such as Alfresco and Nuxeo that can also do the same."

    And there comes the plug. I don't know about CogniDox but tools like Alresco and Nuxeo are not the types of software that any organisation will just go and install and the costs of implementation will reflect that.

    1. Morris Maynard

      2nd that

      Also, SharePoint also costs "thousands of pounds, not millions." So the real cost is in the deployment and integration, training, documentation, etc.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Bad article all round (as somebody who has worked on these)

      This is the perspective of somebody from outside of the process - they have no idea how or why things cost so much in Gov't IT contracts and like to put the blame of the tools and developer costs - which is so wrong. I could go into a big list of hidden costs (hidden from the public) but I won't bore you. But once you get to the end it all becomes clear. The only thing missing from the article is the ***ADVERTISEMENT*** banner, and here's me thinking I blocked ads.

  13. Vitani

    Not all bad

    I used to work for the web "team" (there was a whole two of us) in a local government, and we were planning on re-doing the council's website. We got quoted by one contractor for about £1m, we figured for that money we could do it all in-house and employ a team of contractors at a much lower cost.

    I can see why they government can spend £4m on a national web site, the contractors know a) that the people asking for the site are stupid and b) it's the government, they can over charge by 100% and get away with it. But £35m? Like one of my friends put it; "[it's] insane and no private company would be caught dead spending that kind of money".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      There's a real easy solution, it's called procurement. If you procure something more than a box of tissues, you'd better follow some well thought through rules which tell you to get x bids, and other things.

      I'll guarantee if you get more than 1 bid and let them know it's gone to tender, they will *not* charge you £35M for a website. They will all lower their prices to ~£1M to get the contract, and then they'll charge you £34 in change request fees once they cocked it up.

      1. Hollerith 1

        Procurement? Youa re kidding me?!?

        I work in an organisation with a vast Procurement department. They know squat-all about software and their 'rules' and 'knowledge' are based on going to Achilles with key words they themselves dream up, based on no IT understanding whatsoever. Then they look for 'comfort' names, such as Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, etc., as no senior management of IT person can say these are unsuitable.

        To get a really good, lean, fit-for-purpose bit of software, we have to plead and beg for different keywords, we have to go to our preferred vendors and help them shape their Achilles entry, and then turn our 'evaluation' step in the Procurement process into a pretzel.

        Procurement also takes about the half-life of granite to get software bought and in the door.

        I wish this was just a one-off example, but sadly, no.

    2. Aitor 1

      Definition of elephant

      It is easy.

      You have to factor in all the costs of the project.. including uncertainties..

      And if you are required to tender a propeller driven flying aircraft carrier, because they heard something about a ship. flying machines and "carrier", you have to calculate your costs.. or you won't get the contract.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ah, but do not forget..

      "[it's] insane and no private company would be caught dead spending that kind of money".

      Yes, but any private company would be seen profitable by RECEIVING that kind of money. And there, my friend, lies the rub. If those who advise on a certain approach stand to profit from that approach it is *extremely* unlikely said approach will not be the most they think they can get away with.

      That's the core problem: there is zero correlation between the expected effort (and costs) required and the actual bill, because those who do the advising are the only ones with the skill and insight to spot the enormous padding. Why do you think so many people retired early after the ID Card setup?

  14. Morris Maynard

    Old stats bad stats

    That stat on the percentage of websites which are Apache is an old one and has been debunked many times. Most of the "sites" which make up Apache's statistical lead are one-pagers, domain parks, vanity or otherwise infrequently updated or visited sites. According to the article linked below, in 2007 IIS dominated Fortune 500 sites at 50% vs. 15% for Apache. The other chart shows a 50%/30% split between Apache and IIS for "Internet-based" companies, but the methodology for that number is much murkier than the other one. For instance, Google doesn't really count as Apache in the list of servers, and Amazon and Yahoo are listed as "Unknown". In any event, the statement that "Microsoft and its partners have clearly had a strong influence over UK Government procurement decisions" is clearly bunk.

  15. PDS

    Terry Pratchett got it right in The Truth....

    'Special rate for government jobs,' the dwarf muttered.

    'Oh, but I wouldn't dream of paying any less that other customers,' said the Patrician.

    'I wasn't going to charge you less that-'

  16. Jeff 11

    Nice plug, if you're talking about £35k websites

    This isn't an analysis. There's so much extra that goes into a project - you haven't even considered hardware costs, system redundancy and failover (it is a government website after all), staging-to-live development cycle costs, any amount of planning, bespoke integration, extra requirements that AREN'T delivered from out of the box solutions (like, er, 50% of most websites), blah blah blah.

    I admit the costs are still exorbitant, but paying a few grand for your document management system isn't going to solve any of the above problems which always exist when dealing with large scale, clean, reliable web projects.

  17. Neil Charles

    Here's a money saver for Cleggameron

    Disband the COI. Do it tomorrow. Actually, scratch that, do it this afternoon.

    The whole office serves no useful purpose. It was supposed to centralise communications to create efficiencies but just sprawled into a huge, stagnating, inefficient, mess.

    A key role is to work with advertising and other agencies on behalf of governement departments and negotiate better prices by pooling their spend. Utterly pointless. Any (very marginal) saving is immediately offset by financing the COI bureacracy. All that's needed is an approved supplier list for advertising, websites and other big ticket items and then let the departments get on with it themselves. I'm sure the Met Police are prefectly capable of running those "Don't get your mobile phone out! Somebody will nick it!" ads all by themselves. Review supplier lists by convening and then disbanding committees on rolling two year cycles. Bargain.

    I made every effort never to work on our COI account again after a meeting - which lasted over three hours - ended with a 45 minute discussion about when the next meeting should be. When we finally settled on a date, somebody who hadn't spoken through the whole debate said "I can't make that one"and they resolved to have PAs get in touch later. Timewasters. All of them.

  18. Morris Maynard

    Newer stats better stats

    Or consider data from the most recent Netcraft survey (linked below), which also says, in effect, that Apache's market share, while it declined overall, rose in the UK due to Real International Business Co. adding 1.9 million hostnames, all of which "resolve to a single IP address."

  19. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Don't forget to visit ...

    1. Gene Poole


      The site's down.

  20. David Edwards

    The actual Answer (if he'd looked)

    The COI report contains a the breakdown of the spend of the £35m site (business link)

    in 000s

    £6250 Strategy and Planning

    £4388 Design and Build

    £4661 Hositng and Infrastructure

    £15229 Content Provision

    £4472 Testing and Evaluation

    All huge figures ill agree, but trying to flog an open source produce wont solve very much of those costs will it (im assuming the tool doesn't write content for you)

    If I had my most cynical hat on, id say its just this sort of badly formulated research and "product X is the answer" approach that leads projects to go wrong in the first place.

    1. Ian Davies


      £4.3m design and build? Who designed it for them, Norman Fucking Foster??

      £4.6m hosting and infrastructure? Presumably they host this thing on solid platinum servers in a data centre housed in the Royal Penthouse Suite at President Wilson Hotel, Switzerland ($65,000 per night)

      1. Anonymous Coward

        I assume you are joking and are not that ignorant of these costs.

        If somebody asked me for a ballpark figure for the infrastructure, hosting and support of a 99.999 active content govt website then £4.6M would be cheap for a 10 year contract (depends on what it's doing and what the content is). I assume that you were either joking or have no idea of large scale, high-availability systems that have to comply with 100s of compliance and security standards.

        The last (medium sized) high-availability design I did had server hardware costs alone of over £3m, with another £4m for san storage, media and media libraries (data retention laws anyone). When you add the 24x7 support costs, monitoring, media handlers/drivers, security guards, 24 hour service desk, network devices AND a resilient standby site, it don't come cheap, and I haven't even added software licences.

        Just getting a tool to make static content web-site design easy won't help with all of that. And has the author even heard of e-GIF?

        PS. If you can build, host and support the above for less then put a bid in.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          WTF ???

          > infrastructure, hosting and support of a 99.999 active content govt website then £4.6M would be cheap for a 10 year contract

          WTF should the frickin business link website require 5x9 availability? This bog standard public advisory CMS website could be hosted on a standard co-location VPS for a few thousand pounds a year including support.

          We are talking about hosting a website that serves a set of leaflets advising on howto setup a business not the Inland revenue VAT mainframe.

          You are part of the problem, not a part of the solution.

        2. max allan

          You've already got all that probably.

          If you're in the business of providing infrastructure / hosting, then you've probably got 24*7 security staff and a building/data centre with all the relevant bits and bobs already.

          (Like most companies do these days).

          If you want to build a whole new building, just to house a couple of servers for a website, then yes, 4mill isn't excessive, but if you're just slapping their servers in a data centre with everyone else's, then it's daylight robbery.

          If you;re building a whole new datacentre just for a single website then you should be first against the wall come the revolution, unless you're getting mega traffic, which some of these figures show quite clearly isn't the case. It sounds like they're getting about the amount of traffic that my PC in the garage could handle.

          All I need is a mate with a PC in his garage and round robin DNS and a handful of UPSs and we're set to rake in 4M....

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Aha, that explains..

        "a data centre housed in the Royal Penthouse Suite at President Wilson Hotel, Switzerland ($65,000 per night)"

        That explains the humming in the cabinet. Bast*rds, now I know why they were sniggering. A good thing I paid with a government procurement card..

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why is BusinessLink so expensive?

      So why was the businesslink website so expensive? Easy - it was developed by BT Global Services

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      £4.4m on testing?

      That buys an awful lot of testing.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        That's beyond insane

        Hell, the bill for testing that site alone was more than our SMT production line cost to install *and* test. That's a piece of genuine precision engineering that's completely core to our business - and therefore really had to going properly before we could take 'delivery'.

        £35 million is utterly insane for a single website - you can build a conference centre for that kind of money - That's an entire building, with complex IT systems, electrical, everything - including a website!

        - Edinburgh International Conference Centre (opened 2005) cost only £38 million, Manchester Central Convention Complex (2001) was £23 million.

        What the hell were they doing?

        Can we fire that manager (or rather management team) who signed that contract? They're clearly incompetent.

  21. Ian Davies

    Money spent unwisely

    Those wondering where £35m could go on a website are assuming that you should be able to look at the final product and see where your money went.

    While I certainly wouldn't defend the undoubtedly gluttonous consulting costs, I have to say that from even my limited experience of working for govt. organisations (mostly LSC but some others too) I can say with some certainty that at least 50% of that cost would have come from project over-run caused by various combinations of poor briefing, mind changing, lack of understanding, lack of comprehension, pointless decision-by-committee processes that never actually decide anything, redundant projects, duplicate projects, requirements that cease to exist mid-development, requirements that never existed in the first place but which no-one had bothered to check on, and finally jobs that manage to make it through all of that intact and simply don't get rolled out.

    Really shamefull.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Amen to that

      The worst part is that it also ups your own ops costs because you have to document everything to the nth degree to avoid being blamed for the failure on top of it all.

      I rather enjoyed running a gov project once - I was busy rescuing a group of, well, let's not be coy, complete f*cking morons who had plonked around on a 2 year project. 8 weeks before the end, someone wakes up and realises they have no chance in hell hitting the deadline with what they had so far demonstrated as rate of "progress" (think snail on a salt train stuck in reverse), so they called in some other people to blame it on.

      That was fun - either they stood back and let us work, or interfered and we'd be able to hand them the deserved blame right back. The funny thing was that the "standing back" gave us just the space we needed to fix the job - so we did in 8 weeks what a bunch of "Microsoft approved" nitwits weren't capable of doing in almost 2 years. But hey, they got paid just the same - we just made them look like the oinks they were..

      I think this is what I'll remember of the Blair era: the fantastic amount of bullshit wrapped around an almost perfect vacuum of knowledge with a gentle coating of blabbering ignorance and topped with extreme vacuous arrogance, sucking the money out of the UK at a rate that genuinely belongs in the Guiness Book of Records. And people *still* voted for them, proving that nuking the educational system is a good way to go if you depend on marketing instead of skills.

      But I digress. Did I mention I never liked New Labour? :-)

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "no private company would be caught dead spending that kind of money".

    You jest, right?

    Private companies get fleeced for millions on a regular basis, eg. by (name deleted) ERP installations, and many other examples I won't bore you with (but branding consultancies have to be mentioned, as do the "underwriters" in share issues).

    The private sector is just usually better at hushing it up than the public sector is.

  23. Neill Mitchell

    Worse still...

    They insist that the sites are compatible with IE6 because most departments are still running that version. One of the main reasons most government sites look shite.

    IE6 is 9 years old now FFS. Even Microsoft are saying not to use it.

  24. MrHorizontal

    It's all gone to me mwahahaha

    As a developer of similar sites, the actual technology costs and costs of the developers building the thing for a project for govt is probably around 10% of the actual bill. Add in another 15% for creatives to fanny about and you still have 75% of the cost to account for.

    What that's spent on is quite literally doing all the requirements gathering, research, planning, strategy, risk mitigation, strategy and all the other bumph, documentation and guarantees that adds a huge amount of man-hours and must be delivered alongside the site itself. Add into the fact that govt insists a small web business of 50-odd people has maximum indemnity insurance and you've got yourself the cost of a site.

    That all said however, even a big CMS-driven site shouldn't really cost more than £100-120k to build, even with all those factors taken into account. Add in about £5k per year for hosting charges from even the most expensive (but best) ISP, Rackspace, and that's all I can really see as costs.

    Invariably though there's some sort of integration or training issue to get these idiots to use it, and that also costs, but the main cost to building a site is quite literally getting the client to a) understand the business case of running a site and b) us learning how they run their business so we can consult and improve it for them.

    After all, doesn't SAP, PeopleSoft and all that crap all cost *even more*?

    1. Aitor 1

      It is way more expensive

      I happen to manage big web sites development, and they are way more expensive.

      They tend to cost arround a million euros, depending on features.

      As for hosting.. well, hosting arround 12 2U servers costs me more than 5K per year.. and that is just the production environment.. and you need at least three environments..

      1. max allan

        Your figures don't add up.

        OK, so if hosting is 5K/year for 10 years, that's 50K, times that by 5 (for good measure) and you're still only at 250K. The gov spent about 4M. By my maths, that's 3,750K cheaper to do your "more expensive" option.

        Also you said it costs 1M Euros, which is about 2M pounds, so your "more expensive" website is actually 33M cheaper.

        I think we could all be happy with spending a million on dev and testing and another on running costs.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Asking questions.

    Hopefully this will provide some answers.

  26. This post has been deleted by its author

  27. pan2008

    Cost of software

    The goverment managed to spend all this money cause they employ people who don't understand technology. It's the same thing when the washing a machine man asks to replace the whole motor when a cable is unplagged. I don't know anything about washing machines, can afford £150 so I pay!!

    The cost of software and tools is minimal for a project. What I want is the best software so my expensive developers can be very productive; Many people miss that point. Personally I stick with .NET and SQL Server. Software costs nothing when compared to developers.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      So true

      The government knows NOTHING about technology. The problem with a democratically elected government where all you need to get elected is to be full of bullshit is that most every person elected knows nothing but the ins and outs of corruption and political back-dealing in general. We've got politicians making huge decisions on things (eg: IT, Biological research, etc etc) that they know fuck all about and all they do know is what's fed to them by lobbyists and even directly from the companies who 'own' those lobbyists.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Idiots in charge

    I was once involved in doing a site for a gov authority, well a quago off them anyhow and what a bloody nightmare it was. They wanted x, which soon became y, then they heard z as it's really cool so they must add it, so after a few dozen rewrites and them whining about it taking so long they still can't decide on what features they actually want. End result is usually something which if they had just asked for what they really wanted in the beginning, they could of got it with a very small team or single writer, and spend bugger all, and have it done at a fraction of the cost.

    The whole ohh they use MS, they use Open Source is utterly a waste of time. It doesn't matter, the biggest cost is time and them not having a clue what it is they actually want so you end up flittering between techs trying to get what they want "this week" till they change thier minds again next week :(

  29. Anonymous Coward

    £35m? Here's why...

    ... because someone outsourced it to the Serco group!

    Serco are hardly renowned with providing a "cost effective" or "value for money" service, in effect, they are a more diverse EDS.

  30. dreamingspire

    Local Business Link sites included?

    In that £35M, perhaps the 9 local Business Link sites were also included.

    Bring back the Chambers of Commerce I say! My local Business Link sends me loads of inane stuff... Mind, I only used the Chamber for carnets needed for temporarily exporting equipment.

  31. Anonymous Coward

    You Obviously Don't Know These People

    If you've ever had the misfortune to develop for the public sector then you will know how easy it is for them to waste that amount of money. Constant risk assessments, over the top bullshit technical security (when the users have their passwords on post-it notes), a skip full of consultants and they let EDS make it and BT (£4k to open a firewall port) handle the day to day running. Also feature creep ensures that the contracts go way overdue and massively over budget.

    Great way to get rid of a budget underspend though eh :)

  32. Wibble

    Where's the Java-based sites?

    Java's very popular for application development, particularly in SOA stacks. Strange that this tech wasn't found in your research.

  33. Is it me?

    How to spend £35M on a web site.

    1. Government Departments must adhere to CESG data & system security rules which apply to any system that connects to a government network.

    2. Government departments do not trust each other with their data, so they won't share infrastructure. (This is about to change)

    3. Government has to put projects out for procurement, which is included in the overall cost of the projects.

    4. Bidding for government IT contracts is beyond the financial resources of most SMEs and is becoming so for quite large IT companies as well, so domestic players are gradually being frozen out.

    5. Procurement takes so long that by the time its done, the thing you have bid for is out of date in that a) the underlying business has changed. b) technology has moved on. So the first thing the winning SI has to do is re-write the contract into something that can actually be delivered and is fit for purpose. This often has to be repeated because it takes so long to do it the first time..

    6. A government website will follow the standard internet web site architecture, but independent of the rest of the departments IT, so it will have its own redundant, firewalls, cryptos, GSI, internal and internet links. The firewalls will be of two types, not checkpoint. There will then be at least two each of proxy servers, web servers, and database/content, on two sites geographically separated by at least 30 miles. There will be an identical pre-production which might be the stand-by site, and several development and test systems. The system will also have audit and management systems to do all the stuff you need in a network. So you get on the live site at least 4 firewalls, 6 routers, 8 servers and 4 switches.

    7. Then you have to fund a support team, its tools and equipment, see statement 2.

    8. The contract will be design, build, maintain for at least five years, and would include a server refresh.

    And that's just for a relatively simple site. Some sites, have quite substantial analytic programs sitting behind them to provide the information displayed. Also government web site carry statutory information which they have to publish and support so the idea that you can judge the effectiveness by the cost per hit alone is silly. It's the overall benefit to the user, and the department, downloading a set of regulations cost less that printing it and sending it out in the post. The business case for the web site will have reflected on the overall cost benefit of the site. Costs £35m, save £40m is a good deal. It doesn't always work out that way, but usually because the requirements and aspirations change through delivery, and change control costs.

    1. DaWolf

      but why

      does the business link website need all that? Will the world grind to a halt if it's down for a day? Does it hold the keys to the governments actual sensitive data, or could you get by with something of high security but not insanely high?

      Why do you need procurement when any decent IT guy knows you could get it developed by a couple of inhouse devs no problem, call it half a dozen in the team if you wanjt to get crazy about it. It's not a ridiculously complex website. And because the guys would be inhouse, you wouldn't have to pay through the nose for every bloody change request.

  34. Is it me?


    Yes and they will have won it by competitive tender, so how much would the others have cost?

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Only £35M? a bargain...

    Compared with...

    "Information Society Project (Value £340K) - This project provides Beighton with its own state of the art community website for community groups, local businesses and statutory or voluntary service providers to have a presence on the website, thereby assisting both the economic and social regeneration of the community & inward investment."

    Go have a look what they got for their money

    The quality is less than I'd expect from a schoolkid's IT project.

    I'd could build a better site for 1% of what they paid - OK probably lots of meetings loads of stakeholders and bureaucracy so lets make it 10%, £34k - but £340k? someone's taking the P.

    How do they get away with it?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      I looked

      Where do you get the £340k from? I ask only because it can't possibly true that someone paid even a damp sandwich for that crap, never mind several hundred grand.

    2. DaWolf

      my god

      that is ridiculous. 340k?! Feckin hell. You could put together a better website with a decent programmer in a day.

  36. Lloyd

    the UK Government's centre of excellence for marketing and communications

    Jesus man, at least warn us if you're going to make statements like that, I've just soaked my monitor in coffee at such a ridiculous oxymoron. The reason ALL government projects cost so much is that they will only employee large corporations, these corporations have to turn over £x million per year, they have to have at least 50% of all their income coming from sectors other than public. I know someone fairly high up in the anti-drugs sector and they estimated that they wanted a basic 30 page site, text and pictures, just explaining what each drug was, it's legality, it's pros, cons, etc, just information no judgement, what they ended up with was a full flash fps where you "shot " people on the street and told you what drugs they were using, total cost £x00,000, deemed an absolute failure, 6 months later they launched Frank.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    But maybe I shouldn't be.

    Rubbish provided by, in the main, ignorant, inefficient, numpties who have no concept of "value for money" and "public service".

  38. Hugh Jorgen

    The Secret Society of Web Developers (reads: Fleecing Bastards)

    I recently had a look into costs of a website and did a little ad hoc research. Here's what I found:

    1) Web developers don't have published price lists.

    2) The filthy leaching cock suckers insist on 'discussing your requirements', which is tantamount to setting up the mark and sounding out their financial status.

    3) They then work out a bill based on what the mark can pay, not on the amount of work actually required.

    4) No two quotes will ever be the same for an identical site.

    5) The "creativity" comes from changing colours on a template, any requirement for real creativity and a unique look comes with a quote that will make you physically shit in your pants cos the web dev dick muncher actually has to a) do some work, or b) farm it out to a real programmer.

    Now, add in the ignorance of .gov and you've got a recipe for web scum butt fucking gov morons.

    Before the wailing of "we're not all like that" starts from the cock suckers, for every 1 so called ethical web dev with a menu price list of sorts I will give you at least 10 wankers with a con job web design business designed to extort maximim cash for pitiful amounts of work. Shower of bastards!!!!

    1. Anonymous Coward


      > 1) Web developers don't have published price lists.

      I charge by the hour.

      2) The filthy leaching cock suckers insist on 'discussing your requirements'

      Knowledge of requirements precedes a quote. For obvious reasons. If you can't work it out, try hourly rate multiplied by number of hours.

      In these two respects, web developers are like ... every other professional contractor. You must be a flan-licking paper boy or something.

  39. max allan

    Put it in perspective.

    A Eurofighter is about £138 million. So the website cost about a quarter of a combat jet aircraft.

    A drop in the government's ocean of spending.

  40. Anonymous Coward


    ..the HM Revenues and Customs website is actually more than a brochureware site, I can see 35 million pounds as justified.

    After all, HMRC has to collect dozens of billions every year and that process alone probably costs in the order of a few billions. Why not spend 35 millons on something which saves manual work ? I do not know the details, but if tax is processed through this website, 35 millions can indeed be proper.

    People don't want to hear this, but the biggest waste in EU countries clearly is the bloated health and "social security" apparatus. Millions of people have discovered they can suck money out of the taxpayer this way.

  41. James Bayley

    I worked on Businesslink so I can tell you

    I worked on Businesslink so I can tell you.

    Businesslink is a complex website which contains many applications. The costs are in partially in developing the applications but also in the quality control. For example, if the Government tells you in what circumstance you can fire someone the Government better get it right. In addition to teams of developers there are teams of writers, proof readers and quality controllers. Plain text explainations of laws and regulations must be approved by the lawyers. My own application had to go through rigourous security testing (with secret squirrels) and we did usability testing with 10s of small businesses.

    Businesslink is one of the highest hit website in the UK and probably has the most complex content. I thought we did a good job. It cost a lot of money but I am proud that Blighty can produce something of that quality.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      You've summed up .gov so well.

      "..... there are teams of writers, proof readers and quality controllers. Plain text explainations of laws and regulations must be approved by the lawyers."

      And no doubt, for the identical leaflet (in 203 different laguages) you would have had......teams of writers, proof readers and quality controllers. Plain text explainations of laws and regulations must be approved by the lawyers.

      "Businesslink is one of the highest hit website in the UK and probably has the most complex content."


      Rank 331 in the UK

  42. Mark 65


    "That in itself bucks a global trend, in that over 60 per cent of all websites are based on Apache whereas IIS 5, 6 and 7 account for one per cent, 20 per cent and three per cent respectively. Microsoft and its partners have clearly had a strong influence over UK Government procurement decisions."

    Yes and no. The internal systems of these departments are probably MS so it makes sense to then use that technology for the external facing access to the information. After all, the API into these systems probably suits an external MS connector rather than any other tech and this would minimise issues. If you were internally MS and got some web dev company to knock up a FOSS technology site I'd imagine you have the chance to be fleeced to an even greater extent. I'd like to think they were leveraging their internal knowledge, but I doubt it.

    With regards the GBP 35m site, I can only think that internal systems also needed to be built to enable access to the information. Having looked at the site it just seems someone took the piss and got away with it quite nicely.

  43. Herby

    Looks like full employment...

    ...for consultants. A very profitable profession. Must do this someday. Just mention being a "partner" and let the rest go. Pass around a few quid/bucks and let the gravy flow.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do the math...

    If you look at HMRC's annual report you will see that the provision of on line services through the likes of Businesslink have saved (and continue to save) millions t"he policy to reduce the number of websites and place more services for business on delivered more than £1bn of savings and benefits in 2008-09. It is also on forecast to produce £4bn of benefits by the end of 2010-11"

    So, spending £35m and saving > £1b is not a bad ROI is it

  45. Sean

    You people don't consult to govt enough...

    The first time I tendered for a government project, I multiplied my consulting rate by 5 and padded lots of extra hours onto the project to cater for dealing with government bullshit to get signoff and get paid.

    I didn't even get a look. When I called to enquire about the tender status, I was told that it had been awarded. I'd made a mistake when I submitted my tender. I was puzzled, I asked for details. They told me that the other 5 providers who'd quoted for it had quoted between 30 and 50 times more then I had. Clearly, I had misunderstood the scope of the project so they'd discarded my proposal.

    I bumped my rate and bumped my rate and bumped my rate and still felt like a fucking bank robber when I came in at about half the price of the nearest other tender and got the gig. Even including all the time I wasted because governments are pain in the ass clients - I still got paid at about 75 times my normal hourly rate.

    Figure out how much you'd charge as an independant contractor to go and build a webpage or deploy an intranet solution. Then multiply that by 75. And remember - I undercut the next lowest tender by half. The tender assessor thought I was doing the job on the cheap to get the government relationship and thought they were taking advantage of me.

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