English schools – spending millions on IT procurement
The “damning” results of a survey of local authorities by Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh show that the majority have no idea how much money is being spent on IT in their schools. Of the 59 respondents, 37 local authorities keep no information on the amount spent by schools on IT provision and procurement.
With a parliamentary adjournment debate on IT procurement held on 9th October (the day of the Chancellor’s pre-budget report and the comprehensive spending review), the survey raises particular concern at the amount being spent on software licences, with some local authorities confirming they spend as much as £0.5 mn. per year. If this figure is typical, it is believed English schools could be spending as much as £40 mn./p.a. on software licences.
The survey also found that while almost 50% of local authorities are using some open source software in their schools, there is no systematic strategy to get best value from such procurement. Only 3 of the respondents, Cumbria, East Yorkshire and Lancashire, offer an open source solution as a standard learning platform throughout their areas.
John Pugh MP commented, “The responses make for interesting reading. It became obvious that many local authorities do not know how much money they can save on software because they have no clear understanding of how much they are currently spending.”
John went on to add, “I think these findings give a worrying example of how this government is wasting millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money and is incapable of providing strategic leadership for LAs in achieving sustained best value. There is plenty of evidence of significant savings from adopting open source solutions, such as the Government’s own survey conducted by BECTA in 2005, widespread deployment in Extremadura* in Spain and strategies in progress in Georgia, Russia and Macedonia. Despite these there is no pilot, no trials and no strategy here. Our schools are becoming a technological backwater locked into yesterday’s technologies. With an adjournment debate on ICT procurement set for the 9th October, it’s time we take a hard look at whether we are getting what’s best for the UK.”
* = In 2002 the Spanish region of Extremadura migrated 70,000 desktops and 400 servers in the region’s schools to open source, saving an estimated €18m. In complete contrast, some English local authorities advise schools not to seek savings by deploying open source.
The Register today has a report on the same debate. John Pugh MP comes across as quite an advocate for open source and interoperability and is very scathing of what central government departments have implemented to date.