However, there were always going to be exceptions to that rule. We wanted to tell you more about why we've made them.
Making distinctions between websites
Many organisations work closely with, are strongly linked to or in some cases are partly funded by the Government. That includes many museums (Natural History, British Museum, National Maritime), art galleries (National Portrait Gallery), and National Parks Authorities (Exmoor National Park Authority), and more.
If a blanket approach were taken to websites, then it could be argued that these sites should be made part of GOV.UK, but that doesn't really make sense. The public rightly sees some of these organisations as having their own separate identity. As such, their organisational effectiveness is enhanced by them maintaining their own websites.
The Exemption Criteria
So how did Digital Leaders decide who should be on GOV.UK and who should not?
Firstly, the process recognised that the Government had already undertaken a variety of exercises to rationalise its websites, and we agreed that any new process needed to respect and build on those decisions.
Digital Leaders then agreed that the remaining websites should be assessed against two fundamental principles:
Public Benefit: How would the public (particularly the organisation’s customers) benefit from the organisation retaining a website on a separate domain from GOV.UK?
Organisational Success: Whether the website is seen as essential to successfully meeting organisational goals. What is the risk to the organisation’s ability to fulfil its mission if the organisation’s web content is accessed through the GOV.UK domain?
Under these two wide-ranging principles, a detailed set of criteria were developed (summarised below).
An exemption was made if a website met one or more of the following criteria:
- Site is due to close - if a website is already due to close before March 2014 (for example, if the organisation itself is being closed or merged) then it makes no sense to waste resource moving it to GOV.UK
- Separation of powers - several types of organisation have a very clear and separate identity in carrying out their responsibilities. They may have specific legal duties to deliver and their ability to carry them out would be damaged by their presence on GOV.UK. This includes organisations like NHS, the police, the judiciary, parliament.uk and all of its sub-domains, and organisations that sit on the boundary between government and academia where a move to GOV.UK was considered to have implications on separation of powers (for example, in relation to the Haldane principle for academia), or it was deemed to impact upon the governance of an internationally directed scheme
- Charities - they are required by government to be registered, but remain individual organisations working for their stated purpose
- Funding - if an organisation receives less than 50% of its funding from government (whether through direct funding or statutory ability to charge fees / raise levies, etc), then control of the website clearly sits with the organisation in question
- Bodies who act on behalf of individuals or consumers - Organisations who advocate for individual members of the public (sometimes taking action against other parts of government) and whose operational success is determined on their distance from government, eg the Local Government Ombudsman
- Sector/Industry-led bodies - some organisations have been established to help groups within an industry work with itself for the benefit of the public, eg the Seafish Industry Authority was set up by a Government Act to work with the seafish industry on projects to raise standards and ensure sustainable development. To do this, it works with fishermen, fishing companies and fish and chip shops, raising money through a licence levy on all parts of the fishing and seafood industry for research to help that same industry. (who, incidentally, run the Fish & Chip Awards!)
- Commercial - some Government organisations generate significant revenue (over 25% of their income) from commercial activity in a competitive marketplace. Moving these sites to GOV.UK might hurt that organisation's ability to continue to generate income. A good example is National Savings & Investment (the old Post Office Savings Bank)
- Responsibility to Devolved Administrations - Some bodies have legal responsibilities to both the UK Government and the Devolved Administrations and this needs to be clear to users. Having these organisations only represented on a UK Government website - GOV.UK - could be misleading and so they have been given exemption
The Exemption Process
Each website was assessed against these criteria and a decision was made by Digital Leaders - subsequently confirmed by Ministers - as to who would transition to GOV.UK and who wouldn't.
In summary, from over 2,000 government websites that used to exist:
- 1,720 sites have closed as part of rationalisation
- 145 sites have gained a specific exemption
- the remainder (approximately 295) will transition to GOV.UK
Those organisations whose websites are exempt will continue to have a presence on GOV.UK, providing high-level content about the role of their organisationand a link to their website.
As organisations change, the list of websites exempt from GOV.UK will, of course, continue to be reviewed, with the presumption that all information will sit on GOV.UK unless there is a good reason to the contrary. We believe this is important; we want to make government simpler, clearer and faster, and to that end we are only as good as our last user's search.