The U.K. government is feeling some heat for its iPhone application development efforts, including spending as much as £40,000 ($61,000) on a Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency app designed to offer users "a masterclass for changing your wheel."
The development costs for the iPhone apps were reported Tuesday by BBC News, which obtained them through a Freedom of Information request. Among the other apps, all of which cost at least £10,000 ($15,000) to develop, were a travel advice app and one for job-seekers, called Jobcentre Plus.
According to the BBC, 53,000 users have downloaded the Jobcentre app, which also happens to not work with Apple's recently upgraded mobile OS. Nor is it lost on the media that people who are out of work may want to consider a cheaper phone rather than downloading a job-search app for the iPhone and its monthly data charges.
But as far as mobile development costs go, these don't seem particularly high. That doesn't seem to matter, however, since the U.K. government is under pressure to rein in its spending. A recent report showed that the government spent £94 million ($142.6 million) on development for its 820 Web sites in the previous year, as well as £32 million ($48.6 million) on staff.
"It seems many government bodies have given in to the temptation to spend money on fashionable gimmicks at a time when they are meant to be cutting back on self-indulgent wastes of money," Mark Wallace, campaign director for the Tax Payers' Alliance, told BBC News. "Someone who is faced with losing their home because of high tax bills, or whose life is being ruined by crime isn't going to get any reassurance from knowing there's an app for that."
"Clever" statements aside, Robin Hamman, director of digital at global PR firm Edelman, told the Telegraph that the costs were in line with what companies usually pay for app development. "I think it's perfectly reasonable for the government or any publicly funded body to invest in modern technology which helps those organizations communicate more efficiently with their target audience," he said.
But in pure PR terms, tire-changing instruction apps are probably a bad place for the government to invest its development money.
"Future spend on iPhone development will be subject to strict controls," the Cabinet Office told BBC in a statement. "Only essential activity, approved by the Efficiency and Reform Group, which is chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will be allowed."
The U.S. government, meanwhile, relaunched its USA.gov portal Friday, including access to a number of new apps. Among them? An alternative fuel locator, and a tool that lets you scan bar codes to check whether a product has been recalled.