Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why is Gordon so secretive about his website?

Do people remember, back in the summer of 2008, when Downing Street launched a new redesigned website? At the time there were rumours about how much it had cost, but the figure has never been officially known.

Not that people haven't tried to find out of course.

Just like the Downing Street Gift Shop, question after question has been asked in Parliament to try and find out exactly how much of our money was spent on the redesign, and time after time there is a complete refusal to tell anyone the answer. Occasionally they even mislead Parliament and say things like,
"The cost of the Prime Minister's website redesign was met from the running costs of the Digital Communications Unit. It is not possible to separate out the specific costs associated with the redesign."
I call this misleading because in response to a Freedom of Information request last week, the Cabinet Office admitted that they do hold information on how much it cost, which kind of contradicts the ministerial response above.

However - sadly - even Freedom of Information hasn't worked in finding out the answer. Downing Street refuses to disclose how much the redesign of website was, and the reason? They say it is in the public interest but would be commercially prejudicial and inhibit their ability to tender for contracts in the future. Before you ask, yes, an internal review has been requested - although no one has yet bothered to acknowledge it*. I've pointed out to them that other departments are not so coy about disclosing how much their website redesigns cost the public purse.

Frankly, the failure to disclose the information says more about the culture of secrecy in Number 10 than it does about Gordon Brown's professed desire to provide open and transparent information on public spending - not a surprise really given Gordon Brown had to admit yesterday that he'd been misleading people about the Defence budget for years.

However, should anyone from the Cabinet Office's Freedom of Information team be reading this - yes Yasmine I mean you - I thought I would give you some links to where the rest of Government is transparent whilst you are secretive. Just to help you out as it were!

Incidentally, these are also the links I'll be sending to the Information Commissioner should you continue to refuse the disclosure of what is in the public interest (as you have acknowledged).

Open and Transparent Departments on website redesign costs:

Closed and Secretive Departments on website redesign costs:

I guess if they don't respond I shall have to hope for a change of Government on election night. At least then there might be an open attitude to the truth when it comes to public spending.

*Update:* Approximately 2.5 hours after this post was published I received acknowledgement of the request for an internal review.

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