Transport's web design spending

A PQ from Lib Dem MP Jennifer Willott:

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Transport how much his Department spent on external website design consultants in each of the last three years; and if he will make a statement.

To which Parliamentary Under-Secretary Chris Mole responded on 30 March 2010:

Tables have been placed in the Libraries of the House showing websites operated over the last three years and how much has been spent on external website design consultants for website design work. Costs provided are total external costs and do not include internal staff costs.

Depositing something in the library makes it a little more difficult to trace online; but not impossible. A little-known area of the Parliament website listed such Deposited Papers: and lo and behold, here’s the Word document in question: a simple table, over just two pages, which could surely have been reformatted for Hansard relatively easily? It includes:

  • over £160k spent on design of Transport Direct
  • £178k on the Think! road safety microsite…
  • … plus a further £100k on the Think! drug-driving micro-microsite
  • … plus a few quid short of £88k on the Think! early years and primary micro-microsite
  • £138k on the Flash-y, child-focused Tales Of The Road microsite (which prompted this most amusing Lords PQ last year)
  • and a whopping £343,207 on the heavily-promoted Act On CO2 site – which, in its defence, has claimed 1.1 million unique visitors between Sept 08 and Dec 09. Mind you, with an advertising budget in excess of £10m over 3 years, so it should.

The total of the various sums quoted: £1.2 million, over the three years from April 2006 to April 2009. And I note, for the record, there’s no mention of Code of Everand.
Please let’s be clear. All I’m doing is quoting the numbers from a document placed on the public record. It’s headed ‘DfT Websites and design consultant costs’, but there’s no clear definition of what constitutes ‘design’. In some cases, I’d assume ‘design’ covers the complete creative and technical process, from Photoshop to build to launch; in others, that’s quite definitely not the case.

5 thoughts on “Transport's web design spending”

  1. I’m assuming you consider this (400k / year) excessively high ?
    Of course, perhaps half of it goes straight back into the coffers in tax…
    I’d be interested in knowing what the department’s total spend was (whether on or off the books, so including all staff and pension costs, cost of office space, and so on) over the same period. I would expect 400k to be a minor expense, relatively speaking.

  2. Truth is, Matt, I don’t know for sure without a clear indication of what they mean by ‘design’. And whilst £400k is certainly a drop in the ocean in terms of Transport’s annual spend, that doesn’t mean it can or should be shrugged off. (Look after the pennies, and all that.)
    I look at Act On CO2 for example, which cost £220k, £50k and £70k in successive years – for ‘design’. If that’s purely for graphics work, then yes, that seems high. And I’m a bit curious at the same website spending tens of thousands, year after year, on ‘design’.

  3. Being a freelancer myself, and not having looked at the results (so being ignorant of their quality or otherwise!) I tend to agree…. BUT… the headline figures can mislead a little I think.
    Assuming the whole thing is competitively tendered then effectively outsourced to the winning agency, then 70K probably buys you a couple of months only of a designer/IAs time (and they probably produce 2 or 3 options, from which one is chosen). Bearing in mind that a London agency charges at least 2.5* wages to turn a profit, has to produce and submit a tender before work starts (cost to them could be 10K easily), and then supplies the project/account management and other unnecessary middle men ! (i.e. assuming that the Dept don’t have the staff internally).
    Using the figures above, a cost of 70K to the dept. would only pay for about 20Ks worth of agency person’s salary. Let’s be conservative and say that 1/3 of that is on PM/acct. manager etc. So we are left with 14K of designer/IA (and maybe tech) salary. Sounds like a smaller piece of work now.
    Sure, it could be (much) cheaper if the dept. went straight to a known well-trusted freelance designer/IA/tech person. I know because I am one as are you by the look of things. There are transparency/accountability problems with that though as I’m sure we have both experienced.
    Ultimately that 70K is going into the economy, and supporting a number of jobs. The main issue for me is an efficiency one – frighteningly little of it reaches the people doing the hands-on work. Maybe only 20% 🙂

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