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.