£10m/year for government web innovation

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Pic by a.drian, found at Flickr.com. Creative Commons licence.

I’m not going to say much here about the Power Of Information Taskforce report: the best place to do that is on the site itself. But I will pick up one point which stopped me in my tracks. The report notes that:

Successful leading high tech businesses will spend at least 10% of their budget on innovation… DirectGov, BusinessLink and NHS Choices should create an combined innovation pot of 10% of their budgets, focussed on improving the public experience of government websites, through outside-in innovation not internal requirements. Annual plans on how this £10m innovation pool is to be deployed should be published and agreed by a new Head of Digital Engagement.

Now let’s be clear: £10m is a heck of a lot of money, particularly in a world where the price of the tools is almost negligible. By my rough calculation, that’s more or less equivalent to a team of 36 consultants on a day rate of £1000 ex VAT, working full time. Even allowing a big chunk for ‘overheads’, which you’d normally look to minimise anyway, you’re still talking about maybe 20 full time people earning absolutely top-whack salaries.
(Note: I’m not saying anyone’s worth £1000 a day; just noting that many in government would consider that ‘the going rate’. It explains why people keep telling me I should put Puffbox’s rates up.)
It’s too big a sum for the Big Ugly Consultancies to ignore, and that’s what worries me. If we’re serious about getting serious innovation, we need to treat this as a venture capital fund, and start getting the cash out to dozens of small-scale, agile, hungry operations.
The big boys are getting enough cash out of the public purse already – and will continue to take the lion’s share of the remaining 90%. If they want to innovate, they already have plenty of opportunity – and arguably, have had it for long enough.

7 thoughts on “£10m/year for government web innovation”

  1. This is how the BBC got a lot of guided innovation in a small space of time…
    http://open.bbc.co.uk/labs/about_the_bbc_innovation_labs.php
    I’m from one of the operations you’re talking about. We ran a session at BarCamp on what a more agile procurement process might look like. That’s now being discussed at agile-procurement@googlegroups.com – alongside some ideas about how such a process might actually happen in government. There’s some commercial bias for us in what we were talking about, but we’re pretty sure that a more agile process is better for both sides.

  2. Sorry, Simon, but your overheads aren’t high enough to warrant £1K a day. Clients paying that sort of fee – and of course, only a relatively junior and inexperienced consultant would be charged out at such a low rate – realise that the the big ugly consultancies have to pay for ultra-expensive city centre office complexes, overseas team building events and workshops, advertising in the FT and Economist and so on.
    Plus, of course, the time that directors and partners in these firms spend selling to government doesn’t come cheap. So, up your costs, hire some newly minted graduates to do the actual work and spend most of your own time hanging around Whitehall picking up contracts and they’ll pay you more. Simple.

  3. Good post Simon. I was quite dismayed to see one of the big boys (who shall remain nameless) infiltrate ukgovbarcamp and use it as a networking opportunity. We’re already tied into some quite inflexible arrangements at my department, the last thing I want to do is go down a similar road for the next phase of development.
    Although I admit, as change becomes embedded, it will inevitably end up with large firms getting involved… I’m not that short-sighted. It just shouldn’t happen yet.

  4. When you start to see the sums, and see what is at stake, it does look dispiritedly like money might disappear into the pockets of the big firms – who aren’t exactly the best at championing innovation. There must be another way.

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