Jul 28, 2011
The Parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) has just published its report on the state of government IT.
It’s not a pretty story. It’s a long, messy, complicated one.
But in such stories we, the simple readers, look for things we can identify with. Costs that might mean something to us in our version of the real world, where we don’t try to process 10,000 claims a week, or track case histories numbered in millions a year.
Costs like the cost of a PC. A computer. The box on your desk.
And there’s a surprising figure quoted in that BBC report. Can it really be that a single office computer can cost £3,500? Read that again. £3,500.
No. Of course not. And it almost certainly doesn’t.
Charges made for desktop computing in the public sector are invariably composed of an element for the hardware, plus a rather greater element to cover installation, support… in fact quite a bit more. IT managers (disclosure: I used to be one in the public sector) can play quite a few tunes on this figure; using it to cover centralised development work, packages of software and all manner of other “hidden” costs.
But from a government with an avowed commitment to be the most transparent and accountable in the world we see a reluctance to disclose any of the detail behind that £3,500 figure. (Actually, according to this piece, it’s not “up to £3,500”–it’s actually higher!)
Why should the cost of what is essentially a commodity component of a hardware/services package not be openly disclosed? I can only think that it must be because it is not a very nice answer. I can think of no other reason.
I mean, it couldn’t be because at no point during the procurement process did anyone think to check, or pin down, unsexy old commodity costs like that, surely?
You could argue that this figure looks absurd (it does). And that any reporting of it should sensibly clarify that it doesn’t tell the full story. That was certainly my first reaction.
But on reflection–given this intentional avoidance of transparency, even under Freedom of Information requests, let alone the spontaneous publishing of the detail that we were promised–I suspect the Cabinet Office, to name but one department, rather deserves to look a bit absurd.