Mystery over $11.7m spend
Boroondara Council has released some details of its digital revamp, but key questions remain, writes Rebecca Di Nuzzo
The council insists its spend of almost $12 million covers a “digital transformation” rather than just a website – but details of how exactly the money is being spent remain unclear. Picture: Wayne Taylor
Boroondara Council has revealed some competing tenders for its $11.7 million website — but remained tightlipped about the most lucrative part, awarded to Deloitte.
Documents obtained by the Leader under Freedom of Information reveal 15 contracts, some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, were doled out to companies under the council’s “digital transformation” project.
Two contracts, including one worth more than $600,000 for “website solution design, information architecture and content development”, and a $278,840 tender for “security performance testing”, cost more than the total amount spent by other Melbourne councils on their website overhauls, including neighbouring Stonnington, which spent about $350,000 in total.
The documents show the council mostly went with the cheaper option for the more minor parts of the project.
But it refused to disclose competing tenders for the priciest component — $9.5 million given to Deloitte for website “design, build, redevelopment, release and managed services” — because the tenderers objected to having their details revealed.
Money spent on the creation of eight eForms, which the council has repeatedly pointed to as being of great benefit to residents, was also not disclosed.
Paul Cousins of Web Initiatives said the open source system, Drupal, used by Deloitte to carry out the work, including merging six websites into one, was a free tool anyone could use.
He said he believed many of the other separate tenders, including for the development of eForm icons, could have been bundled in with Deloitte’s work, rather than farmed out as separate contracts.
He also added that from a “design point of view”, and without knowing what had gone into the back end of the project, he would have costed Boroondara’s new website at about $300,000.
“The website looks terrific, it looks good,” Mr Cousins said.
“I don’t know what value the community’s getting out of that. Clearly there would have been other options that wouldn’t have cost $9.5 million.”
Another expert, Renato Dayan of Light Media, said the cost of Boroondara’s web project was “extraordinary”, and his company, which had also overhauled council websites, charged “a fraction of that amount”.
It was difficult to tell whether the $9.5 million contract awarded to Deloitte was too much, he said, because the FOI document contained insufficient information about their work.
Ratepayers Victoria president Jack Davis said the cost of the project was “ridiculous” and called for greater oversight on councils.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous the amount of money councils spend on contractors. The average minister has no idea what’s going on in local government,” he said.
And Balwyn North’s Ian Hundley said his request for a public meeting so residents could learn more about the project was “summarily dismissed” and the lack of transparency was worrying.
He also said the language used to describe the project in council meeting agendas was “opaque”, making it difficult to understand what was being delivered.
“I think there should be a process for an independent examination on this,” he said.
Earlier this year the Leader spoke to 12 other councils about their website projects, all of which put the cost at between $61,640 (Nillumbik) and $2 million (Darebin) and included work such as merging separate websites, the creation of eForms and maintenance.
Boroondara chief executive Phil Storer said the $11.7 million spend was an appropriate use of ratepayer cash and the project could incur further costs.
Almost 200,000 users accessed the site between January and March, he said, and it was “misleading” to compare the price of different council websites without knowing what each council had delivered.
The council also got new computer hardware as part of the project, he said, and the tender process ensured it got the best price.
Local Government Minister Marlene Kairouz did not respond to the Leader’s questions last week.
It’s absolutely ridiculous, the amount of money councils spend on contractors
JACK DAVIS, RATEPAYERS VICTORIA
Rebecca Di Nuzzo
June 12 2018