Just how are they spending the money?

Research from People per Hour (PPH) has revealed that UK council websites are costing £40,917 per year compared to the average cost per business of just £3,297. As we're not talking about the likes of interactive websites, or ones with commercial offerings that require a lot of intensive programming but simple sites that inform residents of local activities and facilities - it does make one wonder where the money goes.

What makes this sort of figure really astonishing is that local councils are notorious for being lax about updating their sites - I mentioned a few months ago how my local council had been tardy in providing information about whether disruption - so it's not going on providing 24-hour service.

According to PPH, the worst offender is Westminster Council, which racked up a whopping  Â£950,421 on external contractors and services to run its website. For that sort of money, I'd want gold-plated servers and Tim Berners-Lee doing the coding. It's certainly not clear where the money has gone on such a plain vanilla site.

The implications of this overspend have not been lost on others. As PPH's Xenios Thrasyvoulou says: “Look at local council websites. They’re important websites, but they’re not complicated, they’re not transactional. The content on them is pretty static and so they shouldn’t cost any more. Additionally, if you look at the amount of traffic on the websites, it’s very low, meaning that the cost per user is considerably higher than the private sector equivalent.”

There are some implications of this. The Conservative Party has made it clear that there will be deep cuts in public IT expenditure. This pledge was made with projects like the  NHS IT overhaul in mind, but it's clear that there's plenty of fat to be cut in other parts of the public sector.

I'm all for the growing use of websites, greater availability of public data and more openness all round. I'm also at one with idea of greater interactivity on websites but some of the figures that the PPH survey have revealed are mind-boggling.

f it's not too unfortunate to echo John Major, let's get back to basics here. No council should be paying half a million quid (or more) a year for its website. By all means keep council websites running but not any price. Now, who might be in the market for gold-plated servers?

Follow Maxwell on Twitter on @maxcooter