Birmingham City Council - an inspiration in how not to do web procurement

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 7 August 2009

There was much chortling this week at the discomfort of Birmingham City Council after the details of their hugely over-budget and late new website were released, following a Freedom of Information request by Josh Hart. I have to confess that given a budget that big to spend on delivering 'a website', I'm not quite sure where I'd start over-spending first - gold-plated servers was one suggestion in the office. Maybe it is the expense on the website that has led the council to suspend 'Forward', the council's newspaper.

Birmingham Council Forward banner

As ever, the devil is in the details, and I'm sure that the reality of what they are trying to deliver is a secure transactional website, that can deal with some complex user interactions. At least, for that price, I hope it is, otherwise the cries of "Why didn't you just install WordPress?" will be absolutely deafening.

There is a rather fantastic irony of it happening in the city outside of London which has perhaps the most vibrant and vocal digital scene in the UK. I'm sure Birmingham's digerati are on the case, and don't need any prodding from me, but I do rather hope someone has been collating a comprehensive set of screenshots of the current Birmingham City Council online offering. That way, when the £2.8 million website finally launches, we can all do a proper 'before and after' analysis, and see just where that council tax money has gone.

Birmingham City Council website

Not least I'll be interested myself in the search engine. Currently the council's website has the most bizarre UI 'mea culpa' splashed across the front page. Even if it was somehow unavoidable for the migration project place to include the task 'Break the search engine for a few months', I'm not sure that wedging a permanent message about it into the homepage was the right way to handle the resulting user experience.

"Please Note: The search engine is currently unavailable and will not be reinstated until the launch of the new website. In the meantime you can search the site using our Google search. We apologise for any inconvenience caused."
Search engine mea culpa

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