back to article Revealed: Public sector's web gravy train

Even printing money might not save the Web 2.0 gravy train from hitting the buffers. Data released through Freedom of Information requests shows that the average council spent twelve times as much money as the average UK business on websites. And despite the recession, council spending on external web gurus actually rose in 2009 …


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  1. Seanmon


    ....end of the gravy train may not be far away."

    You think so? Worked with councils much?

  2. Phil Endecott Silver badge registrations expensive

    > Individual domains can be registered for £2.97 each per year

    ...which is why you'll find a lot of e.g. parish councils actually do have addresses. OTOH, registering a "proper" address is astonishingly expensive: maybe £100-ish/year.

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Anonymous Coward


    I worked on a 'transformation' project a couple of years ago for a large Midlands council. The only transformation was turning cash into software that wasn't needed, which we were promptly expected to fold in to our technical solution, and a large number of SAP consultants who didn't know what an XML schema was.

    Some councils seem to be their own worst enemy... in general though a significant part of the problem is that national and local government don't want to maintain teams of people to do the keyboard work, they seem to think that outsourcing is cheaper.

    I left the council contract after a short time because I was disgusted with the organisation of the 'transformation' and complete lack of leadership.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wouldn't be at all surprised

    to learn that the people awarded large sums for doing very little were linked in some way to the people making decisions in the councils.

    When money is spent with apparent abandon corruption is never far off.

    1. My Alter Ego

      @Phil Endecott

      "£100" per year. How the hell does that work? Let me guess, it's some minister's cousin who runs the only registrar allowed to provide domains.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Suits you

      "they seem to think that outsourcing is cheaper"

      They certainly do - in some cases they may even be right as anyone actually baking the job even half way is better than a bunch of unmotivated incompetents. Mostly however they just end up with the same incompetents with even less motivation but much more savvy and grasping managers.

      In my experience they also believe that someone expensive in a suit is necessarily better than someone they already have in-house regardless of ability and experience. Not to mention the commonplace view that web sites are communications (as in PR) rather than technical projects.

      The net result is that simple things are done in a complicated way by people who don't understand the business and managed by baffled twits too scared of the technology to question the expense and too scared for their own positions to admit to the flaws.

      All of which means they are a ripe target for cynical commercial enterprises looking for some easy money - easy money that doesn't dry up so fast in a recession either.

      1. david wilson

        @Someone's Anonymous Alter Ego

        >>""£100" per year. How the hell does that work? Let me guess, it's some minister's cousin who runs the only registrar allowed to provide domains."

        Why guess, when you could actually just put a tiny bit of effort in, and find out?

        Effectively, the registrar seems to be 'The UK Education and Research Networking Association', with requests for new names only allowed from approved ISPs.

        However, there are rather a lot of such ISPs, who add their various markups to arrive at the prices they charge their customers, as is their commercial right.

        I trust that when election time comes around, your research into which political party has the best policies is as exhaustive as your research into domain name allocation practices.

        1. Neil Stansbury


    3. Mark 65 Silver badge


      Logically you'd have thought that the Government would dictate the reasonable charge for registering a domain given the tax payer foots the bill. Then again the first word of that sentence is likely to prove a problem.

  6. Zucc
    Big Brother

    Duplication of Effort

    My local parish council uses a CMS I knocked up a few years back (at no cost to them). I'm constantly amazed that the office for Communities and Local Government don't provide free domain name registration and perhaps Joomla / Drupal / Plone / Whatever instances, or at the very least decent hosting for local town / parish councils. This would save them all spending public money endlessly re-inventing the wheel.

    Oh, no wait - that's Big Bad Central Government. Top Down. Evil. Bollocks.

  7. envmod


    lol local authorities. i used to work in one - nobody does anything. turn up at 10am, have a 2 hour lunch break and piss off at 3.30pm. this is the blight that has plagued local councils since the 1970s. they have more money than they know what to do with, far too many people employed to do relatively little and a large proportion of the decision making staff have little idea about any aspect of IT, it's expected costs or even it's real world practicalities.

    ironically, i suspect 99% of all UK local authority staff could be replaced by a computer. not each. just one computer.

  8. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    Please look at the scale

    What are you comparing a council to?

    If you do like-for-like comparisons between a county council with maybe 30,000 workers serving around 400,000 households with 850,000 residents (these are the approximate figures for Norfolk) against a corporation with 30,000 employees and close on a million customers, I think that the figures may be surprising.

    How much do you think that a small bank, or possibly IBM UK spend on their web sites. I'm sure that the comparison would be very interesting. I would not be surprised if the councils spend less.

    And look at the services they are being forced to supply (by government regulation) on the web, even if only to tell people their rights and entitlements. Housing, social services, schools, care provision, refuse collection, environmental health, roads, planning, enforcement of regulations, business rates, council tax, court services, local business development. And I'm sure I've missed many out. All the information has to be correct within guidelines.

    It's a big, big problem that is quite beyond the experience of most people to comprehend (and probably most councils). This leads to the problem being treated as an elephant task, one bit at a time, which as we all know leads to inefficiencies.

    Southwest One is an example where private-sector companies come in and manage to spend more money doing less than the councils ever did.

  9. Nuke
    Thumb Down

    TFA misses the point

    Sonds like TFA is missing the point. This isn't public bureaucrats enjoying a gravy train, it is private consutants ripping them off.

    TFA concludes : "But with the private sector showing how to "do the web" much more cheaply and efficiently, the end of the gravy train may not be far away.

    No, it is the private sector who are kidding the councils into paying too much. That's hardly "showing the way". It is not in the private sector's interest to show the way. Do you think they are going to say "Btw, you don't need to pay me £700 to get you a domain name, you can get one straight from for less than a fiver"

    Council staff just need spanking with a clue bat.

  10. dirgegirl

    Apples with apples

    On the surface the "twelve times" thing sounds shocking, but doesn't it rather depend on what the relative sizes of "average councils" and "average businesses" are in terms of budget, size of target market etc?

    As others have pointed out, it's not surprising that budgets don't have much meaning in the public sector where no-one seems to be accountable when the bottom line hits negative figures.

    1. Mark 65 Silver badge

      The problem is

      that companies make earnings, spend them on things they believe they need and, hopefully, make profits which get redistributed to shareholders. Whereas local councils are funded by local tax payers, spend these "earnings" (they pretty much behave as if they are) on things they think they need and nothing gets redistributed to the shareholders and the fees go up for the next year.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


        If they were able to make a value decision themselves about benefit vs. cost, then I would agree with Mark65.

        But they are being told in no uncertain terms by a meddlesome government what they must do, with strict timescales and financial penalties. Their hands are tied, they generally do their best (which may not actually be very good, because councils are not in the Internet business), and probably spend more money than they need on failed work and private sector 'consultants'.

        Councils can be run like a business, although one with a tied customer base. It is believed by government and their (paid) advisers is that this is the way that councils should be run, as private sector management *MUST* be better than public sector. The problem with this is (as you have suggested) that councils are not really commercial businesses, and will only loose customers if the actually move geographically.

    2. It wasnt me

      eh ??

      30,000 workers serving around 400,000 households ?? Are you serious? Do they bloody clean them as well? And wash the cars?

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        and wash the cars

        No. They teach the children, run the libraries, clean the streets, collect refuse (unless this is outsourced), inspect the environment, enforce parking regulations, grit the roads, examine planning applications, man the help lines and front office services, manage the care home provision (and in some cases run them), run the leisure centres and swimming pools, cross children across the road, maintain the street signage, run the electoral role and elections, collect an manage council tax, and on top of all of that, they manage themselves and their presentation to the people.

        And I'm sure I have missed a whole lot out.

        I might have mixed up local and county council responsibilities, but the councils actually do a huge amount to maintain our society. Whether they do it well or no is another matter...

  11. Red Bren
    Thumb Down

    Apples, oranges and catch 22

    "Durham Council spent £711 on domain name registration. Individual domains can be registered for £2.97 each per year"

    You're comparing apples and oranges here. domains are cheap, and anyone can register one. domains are £100+VAT and have to meet other stringent criteria that private sector organisations are not held to. For further information, look at

    Councils are in a catch 22 situation. If they directly employ experienced IT people, they're criticised for adding to the "bloated" public sector payroll with comments such as "The figures...don't include in-house IT teams, which are already large." When they replace the in-house knowledge with external consultants, they're vulnerable to getting ripped off.

    Councils also suffer from "A penny saved is a penny lost from next year's budget" - something that also plagues the private sector. Instead of being incentivised to make savings, council departments will spend their entire budget so they don't end up with less next year.

    As for the article source, PeoplePerHour wouldn't have a vested interest in exposing this, would they?

    1. QuiteEvilGraham

      Stringent criteria?


      Making an Application to Register a Domain Name

      1. Review the domain naming conventions

      1. Group of Parish and Town Councils

      2. Individual Town Councils

      3. Individual English Parish Councils

      4. Individual Welsh Comunity Councils (Cyngor Cymuned)

      2. Review the and terms and conditions for domains

      3. Complete an application form

      4. E-mail the application form to HCI Data Ltd

      5. Answer any queries about the application

      6. Wait for a committee to decide on whether or not to grant the domain name

      7. Promote your web-site

      So that's £100 + vat is it? Nice work if you can get it - cunts!

      Kindly stop making excuses for these chiselling basatrds in future, or stop shilling.

  12. The Vociferous Time Waster

    Article misses the point?

    "Sounds like TFA is missing the point. This isn't public bureaucrats enjoying a gravy train, it is private consutants ripping them off."

    Yeah, because there are no kickbacks at all are there. That's why Wokingham has one bloke who decides who does IT stuff for their school and all the work goes to one 'one man band' company. The bloke making the decision also drives a Jag.

    But that's OK.

  13. DominicT


    Exactly right - it's the greedy private sector that is responsible for these costs, not the public sector.

    What the councils (and the government) should do is take on permanent employees for this sort of thing. If the council doesn't have enough work, then a few councils can band together and share the staff. This should also be done nationally by the government for any government IT projects.

    Doing this would be a lot cheaper in the end as we taxpayers wouldn't be lining the pockets of contractors and consultants. However, the Daily Mail readers and other right-wing whingers would never allow it. It's the right, with their misguided faith in the market and private sector, that actually causes this sort of mad spending. If you cut the public sector to the bare minimum then of course they are going to depend on consultants!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Oh of course it's all the Daily Mail's fault ...

      "What the councils (and the government) should do is take on permanent employees for this sort of thing. ... Doing this would be a lot cheaper in the end as we taxpayers wouldn't be lining the pockets of contractors and consultants."

      Unfortunately, it is very expensive for a local authoriity to recruit permanent staff (due to all the Equal Opportunity cobblers) and even more expensive to get rid of them if they are no longer needed. So, at least for project-oriented work, it is far more efficient to hire external "consultants" (aka freelancers - doesn't that sound much friendlier?), even if their daily cost is much higher. And of course you can use competitive tendering to keep the cost down, and instantly sack those who fail, etc.

      It's facile to blame the Daily Mail for this. It's purely a matter of embedded incompetence and systemic dysfunction in LAs.

  14. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Good proucrement policy

    We've heard of it.

    We've no idea how to *do* it.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Gravy Train? brain drain more like

    what a pile of poo this article is! An epic FAIL

    Clearly this guyhas NO concept of how to put together a website! How does anyone imagine any council can function like a commercial business? Given the vast array of diverse services they have to provide to such a wide range of different clients how are they supposed to perform? I know of at least one commercial webfocused company that supplies only one service to its customer base and spends over £00k per annum on keeping that up to date As has been mentioned before, Local Gov have been cutting costs/staff/experiance for years to try and make ends meet and as such now have to spend money on 3rd parties and yes I'll wage some will take the p1ss!

    Red Bren gets my vote, I would guess these PeoplePerHour jokers were probably the ones behind the hundreds of FOI requests punted at Lcoal Councils across the country thus wasting hundreds of hours of council staff time compiling stats so that some joker can come up with gutter trash attention grabbing meaningless headlines as this report!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Or to spell it...!

      Immediate apologies John Smith ... just couldn't resist that...

    2. QuiteEvilGraham

      And why pray tell

      should information that THEY ALEARDY HAVE cost hundreds of hours to release to the people WHO HAVE ALREADY PAID FOR IT?

      Jeez, the shills are out in force today.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        ... because most councils overload the good staff with so many tasks that compiling the information on their crappy out of date IT systems takes too long, which in turn stops those staff from getting on with their core duties creating a backlog. The good staff unfortunately don't stay long in councils because they get fed of reading comments from people like you when they are strung out because they still haven't had a chance to take the 70 odd hours flexi time they are owed but the contractor sitting next to them on double the money is taking about the holiday they are about to go on.

        With councils the rot starts at the top, not enough leaders that enforce rules at the workplace and crack the wip on the lazy freeloading staff.

  16. Spotthelemon

    Outsourcing the Gravy Train

    Just goes to show is that outsourcing often isn't the best financial option, Tory policy is to increase outsourcing on the basis that it's more cost effective. My own experience in the public sector (not councils) is that the best approach is to do these things in house and hire some temporary specialised staff to add expertise and manpower but the powers that be tend to incorrectly believe that their own staff aren't capable of contributing, they also believe that Project Management is more important than technical expertise, set up the right commitees and it can't go wrong, can it?

    I suspect if you asked the inhouse IT teams they would say they could have done the work cheaper and better but no-one even bothered to ask them.

  17. Lionel Baden


    This makes me So fucking Angry i really want to walk down to the coucil right now and punch the first fucking manager i See.......

    starting to think we need to bring back hanging

    Its just as bad in most goverment departments though

    Worked for the NHS for a while ruined my work ethic :(

    Flames because thats whats i feel like doing !!! burn em

    now please no more articles like this because theres fuck all i can do about it :(

    1. It wasnt me

      Chill pill

      <- Take one.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Uh ? Uh ?

    "But with the private sector showing how to "do the web" much more cheaply and efficiently, the end of the gravy train may not be far away."

    There is absolutely nothing in the article to suggest this may be the case.

    Other than the wishful thinking of website of a wannabe recruitment site and a blogger with an antipathy to the public sector.

    (never worked in the public sector but I could easily show you similar failings in similar sized private sector corporations. Easily - If I didn't mind my arse sued till it was sore)

  19. Not Installed Properly

    Councils - every criticism applies

    Recently worked for a council, not a particularly large one. In addition to all the above being true - lack of knowledge, keeping next years budget, private contractors taking full advantage, doing everything in tiny ineffectual sections, - a massive, massive problem is middle management desperately trying to add a completed project to their cv, at whatever cost, whether or not they have any idea whats going on, and whether the project will do what its supposed to do, or even see the light of day further than the next 'aren't I a good dog' review.

    Sad but true, on several occasions I witnessed managers use outside contractors at two or three times the cost rather than allow work to be done by in house staff, purely to take a job out of the control of another manager. In the private sector, business is business, but thats my tax...

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As someone working at a council...

    They do waste loads of money, and - since the problem lies firmly with management - outsourcing doesn't solve it as they'll be the ones dealing with the various departments all jealously trying to protect their little empires, engaging in blame deflection and trying to manage the unmanageable.

    I'm currently engaged in a vanity project that will end up costing 6 figures, it wasn't briefed well, planning has been non-existent. Had it been briefed properly I alone could've completed, tested, passed it to UAT, fixed the bugs and launched in 2 weeks. Instead there have been 8 of us and we're nearing the end of month 2... Of course you get similar situations in the private sector - been in those as well - but those businesses tend to go bust, while councils feel they have a never ending source of funds to call upon and so have no need to improve themselves.

    Having worked on a number of public sector projects they all follow along similar lines, with varying degrees of chaos - from the rare groups who all play nice together meaning you can get a job done quickly, cheaply and well, to the equally rare utter chaos where everyone is fighting each other and nothing gets done, costs spiral horribly and the project is a failure. In general, developing for a council falls in-between those extremes, and it's a pity.

    The thing is these projects could be done effectively and efficiently, either in-house or via outsourcing, but they're not due to how councils are run. Until that changes, and someone in government has the spine to tackle it, money will be going down a large drain for a long time to come.

  21. Skymonrie


    From what I gather and read both, most of the budget goes on quality assurance to meet the "strict national council guidelines". Other than the basic set of services they NEED to provide which could simply follow a national template (data wise), most councils would only really need a worker who knows how to blog and designer for the front end.

    This whole process of needing to hit the budget roof is silly in the public sector. It leads to such overpriced and short reaching projects. Can't we just say "For this, you have so much money and you will again next year regardless whether you spend it or not".

    Save and we might have enough money to reopen that hospital maternity ward, build another classroom/train some teachers or even...Get our troops some decent equipment so they can come home!

  22. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Yes LA websites are not companies.

    But a hell of a lot this stuff is *boiler plate* information. It's the same for *all* local authorities of the same type. Heaven forbid it be managed centrally or on a pooled basis.

    Where they *will* differ is in the linking into the back office systems when they allow the general public to actually *do* stuff.

    Having said that how many allow you to do much more than search the local library?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You can do things online

      With my LA.

      a sample of online things from their website

      online enrolment for Adult education

      Apply or reapply for a Blue Badge parking permit online.

      Change the address that you have used to register for our services

      Download an application for a work permit for a child

      Apply for an Entertainment licence for your child

      get advice from Trading Standards/Consumer Direct about goods or services

      Submit an FOI request online

      Apply for jobs at xxxxxxxx Council

      Buy a Park & Ride season ticket

      Search for and comment on current planning applications

      Report a problem with a Public Right of Way in Norfolk

      Apply for transport to school or college

  23. Anonymous Coward

    I can tell you a problem..

    Is that corrupt (yes our two neighbouring MP's have found to be amungst the worst of the fiddlers), is that they look after there own gravy trains and spout utter shite like "ooh we are giving away power to <insert other council>"

    One counciler wants to share back end resources across the two boroughs in order to save millions of pounds, but both Members Of Corruption say this is an evil thing and blah blah blah. Because the brain dead voters that read the local bog paper belive this shit, nothing ever gets done.

    Vote for change. Vote for Guy Fawkes!

  24. dreamingspire
    Thumb Up

    Common methods - maybe at attempt to do that

    Last December central govt launched Putting the Front Line First, a cost reduction programme to put more services online:

    Central govt first, local govt maybe next. Driven by Treasury (you know: those people who count the money and tell the politicos that the coffers are empty).

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More info for comparison

    For those of you interested in Council websites and how they perform and what they are up against, check out the latest Socitm Report

    If you want to get an idea of the types of CMS's councils use check out

    Also look up model publication scheme and see how much of a headache that is.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Thumb Up


      Enlightening statistics. Still *quite* an open market.

      Microsoft lead the pack.

      What *is* the MS Content Management System exactly? Is this just IIS?

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Thumb Down

        Oh. It's Sharepoint

        Always wondered what that was and did. We had it installed at a former employers. Seemed to give a fairly limited set of facilities in a pretty clumsy way.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    The internet in Norfolk?

    Norfolk enlikely

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An example

    "Information Society Project (Value £340K) - This project provides Beighton with its own state of the art community website for community groups, local businesses and statutory or voluntary service providers to have a presence on the website, thereby assisting both the economic and social regeneration of the community & inward investment. "

    Not sure just which bodies provided the funding but one way or another "public money".

    It looks as if the main deliverable from this particular project was

    The issue isn't that they may have got ripped off by private sector subcontractor but that perhaps whoever commissioned the work didn't do their job properly - get qoutes from several providers, assess their suitability, take up references, view past projects. I'd have done better for well below a tenth of the cost - my version would have worked properly in Firefox/Safari/Chrome, had fewer typos, used valid CSS and HTML etc.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Its just incompetence!

    but because local government is all about spending money and not making it, things will never change.

    Sigh! When will this country ever learn (ANYTHING)???

  29. TeeCee Gold badge


    "...the Knowsley Council web solution"

    I'll bet the spec for that came on heavyweight cream linen paper in an ersatz vellum binder too.

    Icon because, well, go and see for yourself.

    ....just don't hit the yellow button on the "change colour" function unless rolling on the floor screaming "AAARRRRGGGHHHHH, MY EYES!!!!" is your thing.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    "So what is the point of a council website?"

    is the cry from many here, well this may explain or probably not to those who are the professionally angry and discontented amongst you...

  31. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
    Black Helicopters

    Plausible deniability

    But public bureaucrats *love* private consultants because it gives them plausible deniability, “is it totally fucked up? Ooohhh! Wasn’t my fault, it was the consultants fault for not doing it properly, we won’t use them again” (unless it’s some mega consultancy like Accenture)

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