Supreme Court's untendered website cost revealed

My thanks to Charles Arthur at the Guardian for picking up my piece last week on the apparent commitment to using open source for government websites. In the same article, he notes an FOI request which reveals that the costs behind the admittedly quite pretty website for the new Supreme Court.

  • It cost us £360,000.
  • It was produced by Logica, and uses Open Objects. It’s built on the RedDot CMS.
  • And here’s the best bit, which Charles overlooked: ‘No tendering process took place, as the work was let to Logica under the existing DISC commercial framework and to Open Objects as part of their on-going service provision.’

For that money, you’d have hoped for half-decent HTML coding – but there are some pretty basic errors to be found.
You’d have hoped for a website which doesn’t seem to consist primarily, almost exclusively, of PDF files – even a basic press notice.
You’d have hoped for a website with an RSS feed – several, in fact. But no, not a single one.
You need to ask yourself whether £360,000 seems like a fair price for such a website. I’d suggest it isn’t. Even with a significant allocation for design, I’d have thought you could produce a similar result – with better functionality – for 95% less. If there’s more going on behind the scenes than is obvious from the front end, perhaps they might like to explain what.
This is a perfect example of why I’m not scared of all the talk about massive public sector spending cuts.
Well done to Henry Kitt for extracting that figure via his FOI request.

12 thoughts on “Supreme Court's untendered website cost revealed”

  1. Well, yes, I could have coded a functional web site for far less, and I’ve have been thrilled with 10% of that cost; but then the cost of a web site – a government one in particular – is far more than the cost of the coding. If that figure includes content gathering, etc then it seems less high.
    The lack of tendering is disgraceful though.

  2. Unfortunately I am afraid of the public sector cuts, since this waste isn’t the kind of thing likely to be cut. Bureaucrats don’t recognize it as waste. What they consider a waste is having enough people to actually manage the amount of casework they get. Pushing contracts to the same porked-up providers is considered essential spending to stay “up-to-date”. False economy is practically a religion to idiots.

  3. @Mac – The Supreme Court was a brand new entity. I can’t imagine a scenario where information gathering could have been easier. But yes, let’s say they commissioned a writer to produce some bespoke text – that shouldn’t have added more than a few thousand to the total. Just to put some context on it: £360,000 is roughly equivalent to two people on a very good consultancy rate working full-time for a full year.
    @Dan – …which is why it’s up to people like us to use opportunities like this to make the point.

  4. @Simon, oh yes, I know what the rate is. I’m half of a small web shop, and we could have done any of those sites for a fraction of the cost, but we’re too small to even tender 🙁

  5. I used to work for Logica before they merged with CMG. Sounds like they’re not the company they used to be :/

  6. Any indication what proportion of the cost is licensing the components and users of the CMS? I’d wager a fair proportion was on that and not on design or implementation.

  7. Dan has a point. There’s a risk that, with the new mood music of open source and SME purchasing and more-for-less, that we think this kind of example will inevitably disappear in a cloud of common sense.
    There is still a risk that we see efforts to shortcut ‘expensive’ procurement, use shared services and frameworks which offer ‘better value’, combine the contracts for desktop IT and other services in order to ‘reduce supplier overheads’ and so on. In the world of IT, the paradox is that better value often comes from disposable technology, small pieces loosely joined, a portfolio of tools and suppliers – and that’s a case we need to continue to make.

  8. A large number taken out of context doesn’t tell us very much at all. As some folks said above we don’t know how much of this is spent on licences, hosting and so on comparing that figure with the cost of knocking up a few wordpress templates is not particularly insightful. And while sometimes it’s best to have multiple suppliers doing different bits and pieces (perhaps in this case though we do not have the information necessary to decide) it’s not always so – it can result in a bit of a mess. Government departments have a terrible habit of counting their own staff and office costs as zero. Indeed on this very blog I’ve seen the cost of government contractor costs calculated as zero!

  9. I’ve been the guy hired by a quango to redo a website.
    The scariest thing was the folks who ran the IT department and made all the software/hardware decisions; they were old guys who had clearly risen to those lofty heights just through time served within the organisation and really did not have a handle on the whole web thing. So, instead of quickly building a simple WordPress-based site that could have done the job brilliantly, I had to kludge something to work on the ropey homegrown CMS and they ended up with a half-assed solution at several times the cost. Bittersweet for me, because the money was good (I was hired for three months and left after 18 on a not-too-shabby day rate), but this is exactly the sort of thing that should not be happening and needs to be looked at for the forthcoming cuts.

  10. Mike – sounds like a very familiar situation. It’s not limited to quangos, or even the public sector though. I’ve seen it multiple times in the private sector, too.

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