Council’s ‘eye-watering’ £60k bill to revamp spin-off entertainments website
10 November, 2016 — By Richard Osley
CASH-STRAPPED Camden Council is splashing out £60,000 on a spin-off website which publishes entertainment listings and rundowns about the best coffee shops and bars in the borough.
The Town Hall said its feedback had revealed people had stopped using the six-year-old Love Camden website, which runs separately from the main council website.
But rather than ditching the ailing project, it is pumping public money into trying to revive it with a makeover for the site, part of a move which insiders said was aimed at giving it a “hip and funky” new look.
The size of the spending on the site was last night (Wednesday) described as “eye-watering”. It has led to Camden – one of a minority of London councils which has the luxury of operating two websites – facing questions as to whether it is competing for online traffic with local media outlets which traditionally hold the work of the Town Hall to account.
The council says visitor numbers to the borough hinge on having the site, but sceptics point to the vast array of news providers and online sites that already write about world-famous entertainment locations such as Camden Town, which is in the top-five tourist attractions in London by visitor numbers.
Businesses in several areas of the borough already pay a levy on top of their rates to groups set up by the council whose tasks include promoting Camden.
On top of the £60,000 redesign, Camden tourism officers will spend nearly 50 hours a month keeping the site updated.
Camden’s site currently gets only an average of 31,000 page views a month, far less than the New Journal’s online audience, but the council wants to increase its figures.
Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper said: “Camden Labour needs to stretch taxpayers’ money as far it can go. Like the costly and under-read Camden magazine, this seems to duplicate our excellent local papers, whose print editions and sites are packed with culture listings.”
He added: “Love Camden is a great service but £60,000 will seem eye-wateringly expensive to duplicate our local press, especially while Camden Labour cut services, hike taxes and increase councillors’ pay.
“I’ve commissioned web redesigns, and high-performance, professional bespoke websites rarely come in at more than £15,000. Camden must make sure it’s getting value for money and not sign on the dotted line until and unless the administration has ensured the work can’t be done cheaper elsewhere and isn’t just cannibalising our independent local press.”
Camden’s “customers” and culture chief Councillor Abdul Hai insisted the Love Camden site was a “popular way of reaching both visitors and residents” but added: “Technology has moved on since the site was launched in 2010 and it has become outdated and lacked functionality. Some organisations fed back that they weren’t using the site for these reasons”.
He added: “The new site better represents our borough, its organisations and events and why people should visit. It also allows us to generate income through sponsored content, which we project will pay for the redesign cost within three years.”
Asked whether Camden would be competing for the same marketing budgets as local papers, Cllr Hai added: “It wasn’t created to rival other media and to that regard we would happily both work with and profile local media outlets on the site, should they wish.”