£35m a year for the Business Link website? Really??

Even if the Business Link website was any good, how is it possible to spend that much on it?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Opinion seems to have been split when new business minister Mark Prisk announced the Government was pulling the plug on Business Link: although many business owners have long considered it a total waste of taxpayers’ money, others sing its praises. But we suspect that whatever camp you’re in, you’ll be as horrified as us to learn that its (fairly unimpressive) website has apparently cost the taxpayer an extraordinary £105m over the last three years – despite getting just 1m visitors a year. As they say online: OMG.

It’s a huge sum, for what isn’t even a very good site. According to the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones, the costs break down like this: £6.2m on strategy and planning (meetings, essentially; they must be racing through those chocolate Hobnobs), £4.4m on design and build (is the company concerned using gold Macs or something?), £4.7m on hosting and infrastructure, £15.3m on content provision (now there’s a good freelance gig) and £4.5m on testing and evaluation. As one flabbergasted developer told Cellan-Jones: ‘It’s a completely unfathomable number, I can’t imagine how that could be spent’. Join the club.
HMRC, which runs the site, has desperately tried to play down the expenditure, pointing out that it ‘delivers benefits of over £800m a year to companies’ – although, as Cellan-Jones points out, it would be interesting to discover how exactly this figure is calculated. (Particularly given the fact that it takes a team of five the equivalent of a working week to find any relevant information that may be lurking somewhere on the site, in our experience).
The news comes in the same week it was revealed that at least three government departments have spent between £10,000 and £40,000 each on developing iPhone apps, like the Department of Health’s ‘Football Fan Fitness Challenge’ (not really in keeping with the Government’s austerity drive). Still, the Business Link website spend makes that look like pocket change; even by public sector standards, it's a ridiculous amount of money. It's right that more of these services are migrating online, but we suspect that most decent website companies would be able to build and operate something like this for less than a tenth of that price.

Although as BT (who, via Serco, apparently operates the site) will testify: it's a reminder of how public sector cuts will impact private sector bottom lines...

In today's bulletin:

Nursing job cuts highlight major problem with 'efficiency savings'
Bolland off to a flier as M&S sales rise 3.6%
BP looks East - as US Government demands further concessions
£35m a year for the Business Link website? Really??
Helping businesses walk the walk on CSR

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