City Councils Websites: Why are millions being spent on it?

With Christchurch and Wellington city councils crossing the million mark; Auckland and Marlborough's touching 400,000 dollars; followed by Hawke's Bay and Hamilton city councils spending close to $300,000; it's time for some clear-cut guidelines on how tax-payers money is spend by councils on their website redevelopment

Home page of  Squarespace  - a popular website building or content management system 

Home page of Squarespace - a popular website building or content management system 

After the controversial revelation by the Wellington City Council (WCC) in 2013 that it had spent $1,678,000 (almost $1.7m) on redevelopment of it's old-2004-model website, came the latest shocker. Last week, the Christchurch City Council (CCC) revealed that it had spent $1.2 million in upgrading its old-2009-model website.

Of course, similar to WCC's clarification at that time of the cost ($1.7m) including “project management, website design, development, software licensing, testing, content development and migration, hardware and support”; the CCC too told RadioNZ that its cost ($1.2m) “included new software, staff resources to design, develop and write content for the website, and staff training”.

In fact, these are not one-off cases.

An analysis of the data collected by the Taxpayers' Union - under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act - of the total money spent by city councils across New Zealand on website design* (including website development but not including in-house staff costs or website maintenance costs such as hosting) between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2013, is surprising.

13 city councils reported spending more than $100,000 dollars, with Auckland, Marlborough and Hawke's Bay Regional Council topping the list.

To be fair, this issue is neither new nor unique to New Zealand. An exhaustive report published in The Guardian in 2010 argued that in the UK “there are 10 councils spending over £100,000 on redesigning their websites - a task which costs most less than £15,000”. To top it all was the Birmingham City Council, which spent a whooping £2.8 million on its website.

With advancement in technology in the last five years – to such an extent that industry insiders are predicting “the death of web design” now – one would have imagined the money city councils in New Zealand spend on websites redevelopment to come down drastically.

But this has not been the case clearly, as shown by the latest CCC's figures.

To put this in perspective, and again just to be fair to the councils, it's important to emphasise that the costs of website design (either from scratch or redevelopment) do vary a lot and can reach $100,000 in exceptional cases.

That is, if you are a multi-national corporation with no budgetary restrictions!

Take for example, this article in the highly-respected Forbes magazine. In this, the writer – owner of a web agency Ciplex – acknowledges that “quotes ranging from US$3,000 to US$100,000 for the same set of requirements” is possible.

Or this at, which has Anita Campbell arguing, “The typical range to hire a web developer to create a custom small-business website today is US$2,000 to US$25,000. It’s possible to pay less -- or more, if you have really complex needs. Add to that your ongoing hosting costs, which can add another US$5 to US$50 per month. Technical maintenance may involve hourly charges from time to time, too.”

Ana Alvarado in makes a similar assessment while emphasising, “Thanks to developments in technology, the vast majority of us don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a website.”

For a complex website of a corporation - needing a lot of communication, thousands of pages, multi-user logins, large databases, updates, maintenance, high-end hosting such as cloud solutions - prices start at US$10,000, she notes.

A more detailed analysis is presented by under its aptly titled article, “How much does a website cost in 2015?” They put the figure for “large website conversions to an out-of-the-box, mobile-responsive website, between US$14,700 and US$29,900 and up, depending on requirements”.

It's clear from the above few examples that the costs of making and maintaining a website do vary. What is not clear though is why the city councils, which can hardly be called multi-national corporations, end up paying the amount noted towards the higher end of the spectrum. 

Who spent what? Courtesy: Taxpayers' Union

Councils                                                               Spending* (in$)

1. Auckland City Council                                     451,988

2. Marlborough District Council                        410,550

3. Hawke's Bay Regional Coucil                        370,558

4. Wellington City Council                                 317,726 (contentious as earlier reporting was $1.7m)

5. Hamilton City Council                                     298,000

6. Wellington Regional Council                         282,156

7. Porirua City Council                                        258,234 

8. Christchurch City Council                               255,247

9. Rotorua District Council                                  243,471

10. New Plymouth District Council                     151,200

11. Manawatu District Council                              143,240

12. Nelson City Council                                         104,277

13. Thames-Coromandel District Council         103,777