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£32k a Day For Birmingham Council Website 150

Posted by samzenpus
from the you're-doing-it-wrong dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Birmingham Wired have uncovered that Birmingham City Council spend on average £32,000 a day maintaining a council website that has cost the tax-payer over £48 million to date, while councils nationwide prepare to say goodbye to 26,000 jobs due to budget deficits. Capita, a London based outsourcing company, states on their website: 'To date we've invested £48.4m in a combination of staff training, network upgrades, server replacements, hardware and software — and we continue to drive efficiency through innovation.'"
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£32k a Day For Birmingham Council Website

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  • Shhhhh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lije Baley (88936) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @01:25AM (#33550846)

    It's just this kind of nonsense that keeps us computer folk employed.

    • Re:Shhhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sortius_nod (1080919) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @03:42AM (#33551286) Homepage

      I have a T-shirt from think geek that sums it up:

      "Technical Support: Your ignorance is my job security"

      I wonder if this is the employee uniform at Capita?

      • >>>"Technical Support: Your ignorance is my job security"

        That's also the motto at retail stores. "You buy this new $2000 TV, and it will open up a whole new world of entertainment for you! Plus I can give this free credit card so it's like you're getting it for free!"

        "Really?" asks the idiot customer. "No, no not really. I'm lying because that's what I'm paid to do. BTW want an extended warranty that isn't worth the paper it's printed on, but nets me an extra 5 dollars in my paycheck?" "SURE!

      • I have a T-shirt from think geek that sums it up:

        "Technical Support: Your ignorance is my job security"

        I wonder if this is the employee uniform at Capita?

        Sometimes I get concerned that if too many people switched to linux or used sandboxed web browsers or began to use noscript or actually used antivirus or updated their windows that I'd lose revenue in the computer support field.

        Then I meet some users that are so stunningly ignorant I'm not sure how they operate doorknobs. Then, my faith is restored that I will become increasingly relied upon to help the helpless with technology for years to come.

        There is a technological divide out there, the geeks who tak

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      Do they have an app to compute their salary in real time?

    • Re:Shhhhh (Score:5, Informative)

      by SimonTheSoundMan (1012395) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @04:15AM (#33551374) Homepage

      I live in Birmingham, I know people that work in IT at the council.

      IT was taken over by Capitia, they also have contracts for many other councils and government departments. I have never known a corporate company to be so wasteful and incompetent.

      Biggest news last years was the re-write of the web site. Was first estimated to be cost jut over £600k, and was to be competed in March 2006. However, Capita over-run and completed it mid 2009 at a cost of £2.2 million.

      http://www.birminghampost.net/news/politics-news/2009/08/04/cost-of-new-birmingham-city-council-website-spirals-to-2-8m-65233-24307674/ [birminghampost.net]

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Oh, the cost I stated above was for the redesign. I'm sure you can make your own mind up about how it was such a huge failure.

        http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/ [birmingham.gov.uk]

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Flossymike (461164)

          Very curious. Why all the white space in the page source?

        • I know I'll probably get modded troll or "get off my lawn old timer", but is it really necessary to have such complicated websites? I remember when most 90s-era sites were only 1-2 pages long worth of HTML (see the wayback archive). True they didn't have "ooo wow" animations or context-changing menus, but they still worked. They still got the job done (passing information to the viewer). Not only does a simple website load faster, but costs less to create and maintain.

          "Simplify; simplify." - Thoreau

          • by xaxa (988988)

            What would cost even less is some "big government", with some planning and software development on a national level (or on a local level, but allowing the software to be used by anyone).

            There are 152 principal authorities in England (e.g. Birmingham City Council), and they all have pretty much the same information on their websites (e.g. a Google search for 'recycling' [google.co.uk] throws up many of these sites. They do all need to exist -- recycling methods vary depending on the area.).

            There are another 26 principal au

            • I used to work for "big government".

              In theory centralization makes sense, but in practice it's white collar welfare. Half my coworkers (including me) sat around surfing the web all day. I went to my boss and asked for some work and he said he doesn't have any. "So why did you hire 4 engineers instead of, say, just 1?" "I had a million dollars to spend and didn't want to hand it back to Congress at the end of the year, so I hired you guys."

              Three hip-hip-hoorays for the inefficiency of big government.

      • Re:Shhhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cyber-vandal (148830) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @04:36AM (#33551446) Homepage

        They're called Crapita by Private Eye for a reason. However public service IT in the last 3 decades is a long story of waste, incompetence and stupidity. Hooray for privatisation - a worse service for a higher cost!

        • Re:Shhhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Tanktalus (794810) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @08:44AM (#33552282) Journal

          As always, capitalism only works when all sides are peers in the transaction. That means that the person, or, in this case, the government bureaucrat, who looks for private companies to tender on a contract needs to be aware of what they're asking for. They need to understand what the transaction entails, and they need to understand the alternatives (whether hiring someone to do it in-house, or it's simply the competition in the marketplace). Any time you are at an informational disadvantage, you open yourself up to being taken for a ride. There's a reason why government tenders generally include the clause "we reserve the right to go with any vendor, not just the lowest bid" or something like that: so that they can weed out crackpot offers.

          It seems to me, then, that the person in Birmingham's city government who decided to go with this outfit was at an informational disadvantage and could thus be duped by incompetent and/or malicious corporations. They apparently took the lowest bid, not the best bid.

          • by initialE (758110)

            Isn't there some kind of protection clause against those who bid low, such as a ceiling or price cap for going over budget? In the industry I work there are clearly defined deliverables, and also clearly defined financial penalties not for going over budget - the contractor takes the loss for those, but for not delivering in a timely manner. Such practices go a long way in producing a streamlined and disciplined project that can be brought to completion.

          • by CAIMLAS (41445)

            How could that much be considered "the lowest bid"?

            Give one guy 6 months and 500k (100k less than the apparent bid), and I'm sure he'd have it done and in budget. WTF.

        • > Hooray for privatisation - a worse service for a higher cost!

          Hiring a contractor to perform a task is not privitisation: it's outsourcing. It also does not automatically result in lower costs. The contractor has to be able to achieve economies of scale that you can't. Thus our township hires contractors for road construction but has a full-time employee for routine maintainence.

          • by xaxa (988988)

            Using contractors full-time is essentially privatisation, and it's unfortunately quite common here in public sector IT in the UK. Often the contract goes to one of the big outsourcing companies, when a smaller group could do as good (or better) a job. (Example [theregister.co.uk] -- some geeks made a cycle route planning website with a small amount of funding (£6000) from their local government, which uses OpenStreetMap and covers the whole UK. The government later spent £2.4M on a cycle journey planner that covers

      • Gosh. Must be a bloody lovely website for that kind of money. I think there must be a problem with the authorization. Private companies will charge as much as they can get. The council is to blame and the person at the council authorizing such expenditure; he/she must have been getting kickbacks. Just conjecture, mind.
    • by gilesjuk (604902)

      I guess if they didn't have a website people would complain about having to phone up and wait.

      If it wasn't websites it would be call centres.

      Of course, the cost is over the top even for Birmingham (the second city).

    • I also want to state, £48 million is not all of it.

      The new IT system cost £140 million, as of November 2008. The system has been slammed many times. I still have to wait three months to be paid from the date I send them an invoice, and when Voyager was launched, council staff couldn't buy anything for months.

      Follow the link for more:

      http://www.birminghampost.net/news/west-midlands-news/2008/11/03/birmingham-s-voyager-computer-fiasco-slammed-in-report-65233-22174870/ [birminghampost.net]

  • filling their pockets, you gotta admire the chutzpah of the people who would actually get away with charging that sort of money

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by 1 a bee (817783)

      filling their pockets, you gotta admire the chutzpah of the people who would actually get away with charging that sort of money

      Apparently this same chutzpah caused the story to break in the first place. FTA:

      Capita, a London based outsourcing company state on their website: To date we’ve invested £48.4m in a combination of staff training, network upgrades, server replacements, hardware and software – and we continue to drive efficiency through innovation.

      • They aren't lying though, they do drive efficiency... right through the floor. And I'm pretty sure that it really does take a pretting innovative mind to find new ways to piss 48 million pounds up a single pole.

    • just why is chutzpah such a popular word in England in the past few years? Awful word. Can't stand it. What ever happened to good old fashioned balls, bottle etc.? F@#k even cojones would be better.
  • bad story (Score:5, Informative)

    by teknopurge (199509) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @01:28AM (#33550854) Homepage
    The summary is disingenuous: the cost is for their IT, not just a single HTML website.
    • by buswolley (591500)
      Most likely it is city intranet, and IT services.
    • Re:bad story (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 12, 2010 @01:34AM (#33550882)

      not only that, but the 48m is the amount the outsourcer has spent on improvements to their entire operation, not how much the council has spent.

      The whole article is at best, poorly informed, at worst, outright lies.

      • by jginspace (678908)

        the 48m is the amount the outsourcer has spent on improvements to their entire operation

        It's the amount that Service Birmingham has spent - Service Birmingham is a joint venture between Capita (see summary) and Birmingham City Council. See my reply to GP for link.

      • I love a "The Government are Idiots" story as good as anyone but this one just doesn't make sense. Last year the Birmingham Post (http://www.birminghampost.net/news/politics-news/2009/08/04/cost-of-new-birmingham-city-council-website-spirals-to-2-8m-65233-24307674/) stuck it to the council over a 383% growth in the cost of the website... it went from £580,000 to £2.8m. Where does the £48.4m come from? It comes from Capita's case study which IS NOT about the web site (http://www.capita.co
        • by julesh (229690) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @02:40AM (#33551122)

          Capita might be ripping off the good people of Birmingham

          Crapita never do anything without ripping off good people. Here in Coventry, they've installed voice stress analysis software to attempt to detect people lying when they claim benefits... of course the fact that VSA is essentially snake oil hasn't stopped them spending millions on the piece of software this paper [scribd.com] was written about. Well worth reading if you want to know the kind of junk our councils spend our hard earned cash on.

    • References! If you don't have them, then we have to take the article as valid.

      "To date we’ve invested £48.4m in a combination of staff training, network upgrades, server replacements, hardware and software – and we continue to drive efficiency through innovation"

      This could mean anything. Also if it is all the IT services for the city council, does that make it much better? Look at the website yourself!

      http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by mabinogi (74033)

        If you're taking the article at face value, then you should take the fact that the 48.4m is the money to date Capita have invested in something as the truth.

        The article is just a bunch of big sounding unrelated numbers thrown together to effect a sense of outrage.

    • Re:bad story (Score:5, Informative)

      by jginspace (678908) <jginspace AT yahoo DOT com> on Sunday September 12, 2010 @01:57AM (#33550972) Homepage Journal

      The summary is disingenuous: the cost is for their IT, not just a single HTML website.

      Could be:
      http://www.capita.co.uk/about-us/Pages/Birmingham.aspx [capita.co.uk]

      Service Birmingham is our joint venture with Birmingham City Council, Europe's largest local authority, established in April 2006 to provide the Council's information and communications technology (ICT) services. Substantial investment and innovation have created an all-new platform that underpins the Council's ambitious business transformation programme. To date we've invested £48.4m in a combination of staff training, network upgrades, server replacements, hardware and software - and we continue to drive efficiency through innovation.

      The cost of the site itself was covered a few months back - excellent reporting from Heather Brooke and friends:
      http://podnosh.com/blog/2010/05/27/the-report-on-birmingham-gov-uk-is-published/ [podnosh.com]
      http://helpmeinvestigate.com/investigations/49-when-can-we-expect-a-new-birmingham-gov-website [helpmeinvestigate.com]

      • by jonbryce (703250)

        I'm pretty sure Hertforshire, Surrey, Lancashire, Hampshire, Essex, Kent and the Greater London Authority are larger than Birmingham, and that's before I start looking across the Channel.

        • Birmingham has the largest local authority, both in terms of population and workers. West Midlands is also split in to Dudley, Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Walsall, Solihull and Coventry councils. They are not small councils by any imagination either. You could also include Staffordshire and Warwickshire as they are within the same conurbation, just not in the same county.

  • Definitely issues - see 3rd and 5th results on Google for "Birmingham City Council website":
    http://steflewandowski.com/2009/09/why-build-a-new-site-for-birmingham-city-council/ [steflewandowski.com]
    http://www.bccdiy.com/ [bccdiy.com]
    And their page won't open for me - I've got a slightly misbehaving proxy server here

    • The website at steflewandowski.com contains elements from the site inlovebot.com, which appears to host malware - software that can hurt your computer or otherwise operate without your consent. Just visiting a site that contains malware can infect your computer.

      • by jginspace (678908)
        Could you be more specific? I've done a view source and checked NoScript and RequestPolicy - nothing there.
      • Advisory provided by Google Safe Browsing Diagnostic page for steflewandowski.com/2009 What is the current listing status for steflewandowski.com/2009? This site is not currently listed as suspicious. What happened when Google visited this site? Of the 1 pages we tested on the site over the past 90 days, 0 page(s) resulted in malicious software being downloaded and installed without user consent. The last time Google visited this site was on 2010-07-23, and suspicious content was never found on
  • by Urd.Yggdrasil (1127899) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @01:32AM (#33550872)
    I just took a look at their site, which I thought must be amazing for that kind of money, and I found this: <meta name="ICBM" content="52.48002, -1.902805"> What exactly Birmingham City Council up to!? Perhaps the money is going someplace a bit more nefarious.
  • 'To date we've invested £48.4m in a combination of staff training, network upgrades, server replacements, hardware and software - and we continue to drive efficiency through innovation.'

    You fail it.

    I'm sorry.

    There is just no excuse, no making this better.

    Try again next life.

  • This kind of thing makes me happy to do IT work. In an economy where people can't afford the basic necessities, they still seem to be willing to spend money on technology. As I see it, there are a few reasons for this. First, websites, computers, and the like can be seen as giving an advantage which can be helpful in tough times. Also , it's one of the improvements to a business that at the moment doesn't have huge government price tags and red tape. That is, until the EPA decides that servers cause dangero

    • Small and medium business I do work for are not spending on upgrades. It's all break/fix replacement. It's getting so bad for some, they won't even upgrade their backup software and hardware requirements. If only they can keep limping along for another year they say...

      A storm is brewing. The handwriting is on the wall. I predict an increase in stories posted on Slashdot about how many companies have suffered data loss from the recession.

      • by jimicus (737525)

        Small and medium business I do work for are not spending on upgrades. It's all break/fix replacement. It's getting so bad for some, they won't even upgrade their backup software and hardware requirements. If only they can keep limping along for another year they say...

        A storm is brewing. The handwriting is on the wall. I predict an increase in stories posted on Slashdot about how many companies have suffered data loss from the recession.

        This might actually be a good thing, particularly if it hits the mainstream press. A few big articles about how "Company X has gone into administration following a huge systems failure" might drive a bit more investment in IT.

    • by bjourne (1034822)
      Sounds like an excellent plan!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 12, 2010 @02:02AM (#33550996)

    The 48 million number? Is taken out of context from a company's own website. Context that is lacking is timeframe, actual details of the spending...and you know what, that's enough that I don't feel like going any further.

    These numbers may be facts, but they aren't a story. They're just being used to drive emotions.

    I say we mod Article Down.

    • by damburger (981828) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @03:28AM (#33551230)

      Yeah, this sounds like the kind of crap normally put out by right-wing think tanks to soften up the populace for brutal cuts to public services. Fact is, Birminghams a big city and its IT services are bound to be costly simply due to scale. The deficit hawks always exploit this fact to come up with big, scary sounding numbers to show government 'waste'. After all, which sounds worse, "Government spends £1 billion on X" or "Government spends £16 per person on X"? Both of course mathematically equivalent.

      Massaging the numbers doesn't hurt either. Chav-baiter Jeremy Kyle recently whined in The Sun about there being a £192 billion welfare bill and then starts complaining about people without jobs basically being subhuman - as if the entire £192 billion were spent on jobseekers allowance - the reality is that only £2.9 billion is spent on it, and the vast majority of that bill goes to supporting children, people on state pensions, and the disabled. But don't let facts get in the way of scapegoating the unemployed, Kyle.

      There is only one source of our current financial woes, and it lives in the City of London. Right-wing think tanks are constantly putting out this bullshit as a misdirection technique. The bankers want us to blame some defenceless underclass instead of marching on their bonus-bought mansions with torches and pitchforks...

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There has been a noticeable rise in the number of pro-Conservative Party articles on Slashdot. They're almost exclusively some whine that makes government stupid or the Labour Party look bad. Maybe it's some politically active nerd ego, or part of an organised campaign. I don't know but this run of articles looks more than a bit fishy to me.

        I'm long-term unemployed and on sick pay. Yes, I'm one of those "lifestyle scroungers" the Chancellor of the Exchequer likes to slag off. He has one of the most powerful

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I obviously have to be careful what I'm saying for legal reasons but if the Toffs have their flash cars and big houses targeted, and some fat cat banker gets stabbed in the street I'm not going to get in anyone's way.

          Yes Comrade, fight the power! I haven't worked to earn any of those things either, but damnit I can express outrage towards the people who have! Life isn't fair, so let's hurt other people! Wooo!

          • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Yes Comrade, fight the power!

            Ahhh, your comment starts with a veiled dig, trying to insinuate that the parent is some kind of communist.

            <meme type="phone message reference">The 50s called, and they want their propaganda back.</meme>

            There is no reason why anyone of even moderate intellect would find your accusation offensive, and the fact that you even reach for that tool speaks volumes about your thought processes, and how they have been influenced and polarised.

            Once people are polarised, they are much easier to control. Ev

          • by Doug Neal (195160)

            I obviously have to be careful what I'm saying for legal reasons but if the Toffs have their flash cars and big houses targeted, and some fat cat banker gets stabbed in the street I'm not going to get in anyone's way.

            Yes Comrade, fight the power! I haven't worked to earn any of those things either, but damnit I can express outrage towards the people who have! Life isn't fair, so let's hurt other people! Wooo!

            You honestly think peoples' wealth is directly proportional to how hard they work? The world isn't that simple. Social injustice is all around us, it's an entirely reasonable thing to be outraged about.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anne Thwacks (531696)
          The Labour Party manages to look worse than bad without any help from others.

          In fact, the Labour party could not look other than bad: Old labour still believes Marxist economic theory is correct - despite the fact that it was proven stupid in theory and practice, while new labour: Blair was secretly negotiating with Mugabe!

          There are NO redeeming features of Labour whatever.

          However, if the bankers' "derivatives" ponzi scheme is not stopped soon, even the rich will be in the same situation as flooded Pa

      • It does surprise me (although it shouldn't) that the blame for our current deficit woes has suddenly fallen on benefit scroungers, immigrants and the "dreadfully wasteful" public sector, instead of the previous administration having to spend huge sums bailing out a bunch of greedy fools in the banking sector. Those greedy fools of course are quite happily carrying on as before without any restrictions or complications.

        • by jonbryce (703250)

          The ongoing deficit has nothing to do with the bankers. We spent a few trillion pounds bailing out the banks a couple of years ago, but nothing this year. This year 25p out of every £ our government spends is borrowed, and none of that is going to the banks. It is going on other things.

  • Oh, wait. I forgot we can't mod dumb stories "-1, overrated".

  • To reiterate my comment at TFA, that they're no doubt going to approve.

    I would like to know how you arrived at your headline - £32000/day for the Birmingham City Council website?

    Your quote "To date we've invested £48.4m ..." from http://www.capita.co.uk/about-us/Pages/Birmingham.aspx [capita.co.uk] gives a figure spent by Service Birmingham (£48.4 million), and that page states SB were "established in April 2006 to provide the Council’s information and communications
    technology (ICT) services". That

  • by greg_robson (638474) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @04:08AM (#33551354)

    ...I can say that we all waited ages for the site to relaunch, when it finally did we are shocked.

    • Poor accessibility, basically the same content under a different template. It took them 2 months to get the "Pay your Council Tax online" feature working again.
    • There was no consultation with the target audience (Birmingham City Council covers approximately 1.2 million people).
    • All the features we were expected such as here's my postcode...
      • ...where's my nearest school/doctor"
      • ...who's my Member of Parliament
      • ...when do my bins (trash cans for those across the pond) get collected.
    • ...were nowhere to be seen despite being common on many other council websites.

    So bad is the situation, some local web developers have set up their own community built site:
    http://www.bccdiy.com/ [bccdiy.com]
    And while still in it's early days (design could be improved), it has the useful features and shows events that are taking place in what is a vibrant and modern city.

    • Cheers Greg, you hit some of the problems there. I have mod points but I have already posted.

    • by mutube (981006)

      It's funny you mention the bin collection information as I was going to make a comment here to that effect. I have moved from one area of Birmingham to a nearby one and went to the site to find out the local bin collection times. It went something like this...

      Find my local area page on the site
      Local services
      Refuse collection

      This does not tell me anything about local refuse collection but instead lists general information about what the council will collect and their 'priorities'

      Follow a small link to local

  • That'll be the invisible hand of the market pickpocketing the public purse again. Who loses? the people who live in these towns.

    I wonder if this is going like the last time we had the Tories (right wing conservative party) in power? Lot of noise from politicians to privatise everything, juicy contracts issued, happy business leaders, 4 years down the line MPs (members of parliament) retire and get offered non-executive directorships in said companies (nominal one day a week jobs and a few million qu

  • So by "funding the website" they mean "funding the prodigious cocaine habits of council members?"
  • by devent (1627873) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @08:33AM (#33552230) Homepage
    No wonder it's so expensive, it runs on the most expensive software out there. Windows Server 2003 and Oracle-Application-Server-10g/10.1.3.0.0 Oracle-HTTP-Server. [netcraft.com]. But the side is all wrong in FF3. The menu is in the middle of the side and the content is under the menu blob. Maybe next time they just using a Linux server with a custom Drupal or Wordpress.

    Why the government always needs a site to be build from scratch? There are 100 open source CMS systems out there, where you have a) localization, b) forum, c) uploads, d) content management, etc, etc, all already developed. Just spend £1000 on a nice theme and another £3000 on customizing it. I don't think the side will have 10,000,000 visitors per day where you need an Oracle HTTP server with an Oracle DB and a highly specialized website.

  • 32,000k a day are they on mobile broadband with a high pre MB cost?

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