Digital experts have been left stunned at the huge £1.2 million cost of the council’s new Library of Birmingham’s website – claiming it could have been delivered at a fraction of the cost.
There was also criticism of the ongoing £190,000-a-year running cost of the site revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request from a city web designer.
The website creation contract was pocketed by IT supplier Capita Service Birmingham without a competitive tender and launched to coincide with the opening of the £189 million Library of Birmingham, in Centenary Square, in September.
But its creation has also led to new questions over the value for money the taxpayer is getting from the council contract with Capita-Service Birmingham.
The huge outlay comes as the city’s 39 community libraries are under review as the council bids to cut the £50 million ‘controllable’ budget.
Council leader Sir Albert Bore has admitted that library closures are ‘a possibility’ amid cuts of around £100 million a year until 2018.
But members of Birmingham’s IT and digital sector have expressed surprise at the huge website cost on Twitter.
Lee Crutchley tweeted: “It’s too far away from April 1 to be telling me the Library website cost £1.2 million.”
Emma Wright tweeted: “That’s the library website, not the library.”
Julia Higginbottom, of Jewellery Quarter-based digital film and video company Rebel Uncut, stressed that a final judgment could not be drawn until details of the website’s full specification is known.
But she said the controversy echoed the city council’s own Service Birmingham-developed website which soared from about £500,000 to £2.8 million and arrived years behind schedule.
“Bearing in mind the controversy and difficulty over the council’s website you would have thought someone would have been in a position to do something about the Library website,” she said.
“It does not appear to represent good value. We are probably paying over the odds for services time after time.”
She also suggested that, as a Trust, the library should be able to bypass the requirement to buy in IT from Service Birmingham.
The Service Birmingham contract, which costs the council about £120 million per year and runs until 2020, is currently being renegotiated by the city council.
Backbench councillors have continually raised concerns over the high cost of IT systems from the company and the costs of running the council’s call centre.
The council’s Labour leadership is coming under increasing pressure to either reduce costs or tear up the contract.
Last week the council’s own website went down under attack from hacker group Anonymous.
Director of the Library Brian Gambles said: “The context for the procurement of the Library of Birmingham website is that Birmingham City Council has a contract with Service Birmingham, and that rates for ICT procurement are agreed within the terms of that contract, which is scrutinised corporately by the council. “There were various different elements of the specification for the website for the Library of Birmingham which made it a highly complex project.
“We needed to ensure that the Library of Birmingham website was robust, future-proof and integrated with various back-end systems.
“Since the library opened page views of the website have increased ten-fold, so it is vital that the performance of the system is robust.
“One of the most complicated elements of the website design is the extent of integration with other library systems, for example the Library Management System, information points within the library, and the digital asset management system – these are all different technologies which need to be integrated seamlessly. Another essential feature of the site is the sophisticated process of publishing and moderating content.”
A Service Birmingham spokeswoman, referred to the Library statement and added that it would not be appropriate to comment on the way the tender was awarded.
It is not the first time Service Birmingham’s involvement with the Library fit out has sparked controversy. Three years ago Witton company Mayflex claimed it had been cut out of a tender to supply IT cabling after the council changed the contract specification midway during the tender process to favour a cable brand supplied by Service Birmingham. The company’s complaint was not upheld following an internal council investigation.