Websites under £20k dodge Maude’s gateway

There’s an intriguing mismatch between the answers to two PQs tabled by former Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson today. In one, he asks ‘what criteria have been set to govern the creation of new Government websites’, to which Francis Maude replies:

I am determined to reduce the number of Government websites and so the creation of any new sites will be exceptional and only permitted where its objective cannot be met in any other way. The reduction in the number of websites is part of the overall control on communications spending, which the Efficiency Board is overseeing.

You’ll note the complete lack of any specific criteria being mentioned. That’s OK, it’s hardly the first time. But on the very same page of Hansard, we go on to learn there are some specific criteria as to whether or not a web project even requires the Board’s oversight.

Tom also asked about the cost of the Your Freedom website, built by Delib. Francis Maude responds that the site cost a very reasonable £3,200 (inc VAT) to build, and has a (very precisely) estimated annual cost of £19,853.98 including VAT. But the last line of the response is the most interesting:

The creation of the Your Freedom website did not come before the Efficiency Board as the estimated cost was below the £20,000 threshold for approval.

Ah, there is a specific criterion after all! There’s certainly been no mention of it in, for example, the Cabinet Office press release announcing the new procedure, which only stated that:

No new websites will be permitted except for those that pass through a stringent exceptions process for special cases, and are cleared by the Efficiency board

So at first glance, it looks like you’ll get away with it if you keep the price below £20k. Your Freedom, which comes in just £146.02 below that threshold, appears to be setting a handy precedent.

5 thoughts on “Websites under £20k dodge Maude’s gateway”

  1. There does seem to be a very important set of criteria missing though – what actually constitutes a site? “Your Freedom” is being hosted on a subdomain of hmg.gov.uk – it isn’t clear from the above statements whether this means you are limited to spending up to £20k on making a new *section* on an *existing* domain name. Would the rules have been different if instead, for example, the service had been located at http://www.yourfreedom.gov.uk?

  2. Quite a philosophical question really, Martin! Certainly subdomains have already been used as a loophole by quite a few departments. (Equally, I know of quite a few instances where gov sites have gone live under .org.uk and .co.uk.)

    I suspect in practice, it’s more a question of project spending – so it really ought to apply to any web development, even within an existing site. Whether or not it does is another matter. New gov.uk domain registrations will always attract Cabinet Office attention. Other work may well slip past.

  3. Forgive my naivety but how can a site cost nearly £20k to run for a year – that’s a lot of hosting and if it needs that much support, it begs the question – why?

  4. The £20k limit is general barrier – i.e. any spend over £20k goes through gates for approval. so if you can deploy oracle/mysql, bea/jboss etc for £20k, you can get it done. doubtless there are some folks salami slicing 100k into 5 tranches but probably not too many,

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