Why we should keep the Business Link and UKTI websites - but carve them up

The full extent of spending on the two sites surfaced in this morning's report by the Central Office of Information, which outlined plans to axe 75% of government websites and force surviving sites to cut costs by more than half.

Having burned through a whopping £35.78m at a rate of £2.15 per user, BusinessLink.gov.uk accounted for a third of all government spend on websites, while UKTI.gov.uk, which cost just a mere £4.7m, looked to be the least efficient, costing £11.78 for each of its 399,501 visits.

By comparison, the most cost-efficient government websites included the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs which cost 2p per visit, Revenue and Customs at 11p and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport at 5p per visit. A decision on which sites will be saved will be made in September.

Now as an independent business advice site run at a fraction of the cost of Business Link, you could possibly expect Smarta to be gleefully putting the boot in at the expense of its publically-funded rival. Not so.

Should Business Link restructure? Yes. Cut costs? Certainly. Should the government scrap it completely? No.

Why? Let's be clear I'm no big fan of Business Link, but to scrap it or its website altogether would be a crazy waste of millions already spent.

As the government's official site for business, Business Link should provide the factual administrative information people starting and running businesses need to access. It should clearly explain and display all the legal, tax and regulatory obligations of business owners - and that's it.

It should stop trying to tell people how to run businesses because it doesn't know how to do that and that's not what people need it to do.

Business people look to each other, mentors, their online and offline networks for advice on business decisions because they value first-hand experience. They don't ask the government and never will.

In turn, it's hard to believe many people would happily reply on recommendation to find out VAT codes or licensing protocol - that's where official information is needed and what should be Business Link's domain.

Similarly, the new government shouldn't rush to conclusions over UKTI's role on the back of its apparent inefficiency. Having placed export at the heart of its emergency budget and economic recovery plans it'd seem foolhardy to lose all online support for would-be exporters.

Better to measure effectiveness and return on investment. While expenditure per user may seem extraordinarily high, if UKTI is helping businesses successfully trade overseas (and it is by no means clear that it is), then its role could actually be returning handsome profit to the economy and taxpayer, albeit via a small number of contributors. And if that's not happening, perhaps it is the site itself not the need for the site which needs addressing.

What is clear is that government sites (read also departments, quangos etc) need to stop trying to do everything and be cut back to their core functions.

Let's keep the Business Link and UKTI websites, but strip them down, carve them up, maybe even combine them so they're running at costs closer to £4m than £40m! They shouldn't do or cost any more.

 

 

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