The government is to convert its 951 websites into two supersites to save money, a meeting of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee heard yesterday.
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All government websites except 26 corporate departmental sites will be merged into either Directgov or BusinessLink by 2011, a spokesmen for the Cabinet Office told the committee. It will take that long to ensure that no valuable information is lost, the PAC heard.
Alexis Cleveland, director general of Transformational Government, the government's project to improve service delivery by increasing data-sharing between departments, said it was not possible to say how much money the government might save.
She said it was "very difficult" to establish the costs of setting up the websites in the first place because they were distributed between capital and operational budgets. "We have no audit trail of costs, and, therefore, cannot establish the savings," she told PAC chairman Edward Leigh.
However, a National Audit Office report said in July it put the annual running cost of government websites at £208m, or about 3.2% of all central government IT spending. It agreed with earlier estimates that reducing the number of websites could save the government up to £400m.
The PAC heard that the aim of the project was to make the websites more customer-driven. Cleveland said that in the past government felt that every department needed its own website. However, the government was now guided by how the public actually supplies and looks for data. But Leigh noted it had no usage data for one in six sites.
Asked if this project would not turn into "another government IT disaster", Alan Bishop, chief executive of the Central Office of Information, said he could not guarantee it would not. He said the Directgov website was highly rated by independent sources, and that uptimes for government websites were better than 99%, except for when they changed platforms, when availability dropped to 96%.