The government has backtracked on a decision to automatically reject all applications for .gov.uk websites, after the original decision was taken without consulting any local councils.

Last September the .gov.uk Naming and Approvals Committee made the decision for a “presumption of rejection” of all new applications from local governments for a .gov.uk domain name website.

But a subsequent meeting with a local government representative who was absent from the original talks led to a reversal of the decision, until more discussions take place.

The minutes of the original meeting, held last September, read: “After reviewing the statistics and considering two illustrative case studies (hampshirejobs.gov.uk and kentconnects.gov.uk), the committee decided to adopt a ‘presumption of rejection’ approach to applications from local government bodies.”

The news emerged after a freedom of information request was made by news publication Public Sector Forums.

A spokesperson for the government said it was “not correct” that all applications by local councils to the domain were being automatically refused as the government attempted to reduce the number of .gov.uk sites.

A separate meeting with the only local government representative on the panel, Bill Parslow, then head of ICT and e-government at Brighton and Hove City council, had led to the decision that the sites should not be automatically refused until further talks take place.

Parslow had been unable to make it to the original meeting. The panel that attended consisted of representatives from central government bodies: the central office of information, the United Kingdom Education and Research Networking Association, the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, the Central Sponsor for Information Assurance, and the Scottish executive.

A spokesperson at the government’s central office of information said: “We are not currently proposing to reject all requests for .gov.uk websites from local government. The position towards these websites has not changed and the existing rules for determining approval or rejection will continue to be applied.

"At the meeting in question, this issue was discussed. The group explored ways in which these could be limited, in line with the convergence of central government websites to create fewer channels for citizens.

"However, in a separate meeting with the committee's local government representative and the Department for Communities and Local Government, it was agreed that further discussion needs to take place before a new way forward, if necessary, can be decided.”

The government has a programme to cut 979 “unnecessary sites”, as well as moving most sites to the Direct.gov.uk and businesslink.gov.uk portals by 2011. Some 441 have been closed so far.

The Committee of Public Accounts found last month that the government did not know it operated 2,500 websites, or how much they cost. It spends £208 million each year on website services.

The original decision to cut sites immediately raised concern because it had been taken without any local government representation at the meeting. The only exceptions that would be made were for websites that provided new information, improved user experience, entities that did not already have a web presence, and those that promoted transformational activities such as shared services.

In his blog on CIO, Richard Steel, chief information officer at 2012 Olympic borough Newham, questioned why it was the number of sites were being restricted when value for money was the key question. He also said he had expected the Transformational Government programme to increase the number of websites.

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