The memory of George Orwell is apparently alive and well as shown by a UK government statement that "at least 551 citizen-facing government websites are to be shut to make access to information easier for citizens and businesses."

The news is contained in a 2006 annual report, entitled 'Transformational Government - Enabled by Technology' by the Government chief information officer, John Suffolk.

It states that there has been a government website rationalisation policy to both rationalise content and migrate it to either the Directgov website (for citizens) or the Business Link website (for businesses).

The report quotes cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell as saying: "We must be relentlessly customer-focused. Many people want a single point of contact for a range of services. The public are not interested in whether their needs are met by department X or agency Y, they just want a good, joined-up service where X and Y talk to each other and share the information the public have provided. We should strive to meet this demand."

So far, 951 government websites have been considered and, of these, 90 have already closed and a further 461 are planned to be closed. 374 of the remaining sites will be reviewed by June 2007, with a view to encouraging further rationalisation. We might expect over 200 of these to be shut down. It means the government has built at least 1,412 separate web sites, half or more of which have been useless.

Public money has been wasted setting up websites few people visit and now more public money is to be spent shutting them down and converging web visitors onto consolidated sites.

An earlier 2006 report on government service transformation, summed up government e-services thus: "The government’s use of the e-channel, while excellent in places, is often disjointed and incoherent. The majority of departmental e-services are provided through a multitude of subject-centric websites without a clear proposition, audience focus, or overarching quality standards."

It advised: "The full potential for government e-services can only be met when public service websites have migrated their citizen and business facing content and transactional capability to Directgov and Businesslink.gov." This could generate savings of up to £400 million.

The Directgov site has, since 2004, grown from 800,000 customer visits a month to over 5 million. It now involves 18 government departments and has links to services in nearly all 388 local authorities in England.

Over £6 billion has been invested in information technology services across government since 2002 with an estimated 50,000 IT staff.