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UK Taxpayers' Money Getting Wasted On IT Spending 174

Posted by timothy
from the dog-bites-man-over-and-over-and-over dept.
hypnosec writes "A report combined by MPs has claimed the UK government is spending 'obscene' amounts of taxpayers' money on IT. The Public Administration Select Committee revealed in its report that some government departments have spent £3,500 on a single desktop PC, which can be purchased for as little as £200. Some other examples of the government pouring public money down the drain include buying copier paper for £73 when it can be purchased for £8."
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UK Taxpayers' Money Getting Wasted On IT Spending

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  • That £3500 PC (Score:4, Informative)

    by LilBlackKittie (179799) on Friday July 29, 2011 @06:49AM (#36919326) Homepage

    About that £3500 PC...

    The media reporting this story appear to be doing a good job of ignoring what that £3500 PC actually is: three years of PC, with software licensing, hardware replacement, upgrades, maintenance and support. It's not just the bare metal put on someone's desk but the full service behind it.

    If you take the IT budget for a large healthcare public sector organisation and divide it by the number of desktop PCs they support, it'll probably come out at around £1000/year.

    • by MoonBuggy (611105)

      A fair point, but the fact they were overpaying by a factor of nine for the copier paper too, which I'm assuming didn't come with a support contract or licensing, seems to imply there was still significant waste going on.

      • I agree there is significant waste, yes. But removing the context of something for a snappy headline — misrepresenting something to get a soundbite — is bad journalism. Geeks expect better!

      • The example of the £3500 PC has no details this specific example is only mentioned in the summary ..

        The report does not mention Copier Paper at all ....? (I searched it ...)

        • by rbrausse (1319883)

          I looked for the desktop PC prices, too - nothing within the 20 or so pages except the executive summery. but I didn't checked all of the references, most likely the source for the claim.

        • by whoever57 (658626)

          The report does not mention Copier Paper at all ....? (I searched it ...)

          Either your searching is a FAIL or the article changed after you read it, because it includes this comment:

          Some other examples of government pouring public money down the drain include paying copier paper for £73 when it can be purchased for £8.

      • by jimicus (737525)

        My guess is they've got a contract with a printer company that basically gives them the printer, all the paper and the toner they need over the lifetime of the machine and a number to call which will get an engineer out guaranteed in 8 hours, no matter where the printer is in the country. Typically with such contracts you never own the printer - you pay a fixed price per page and when the printer reaches the end of its useful life the printer company will either charge you to dispose of it or give it to you

        • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Friday July 29, 2011 @08:07AM (#36919752)
          I consult in this area. I have to tell you that where the NHS and local authorities are concerned, printing is a very competitive business and only efficient suppliers make a go of it. (The contracts you describe are, however, going out of date.)
          In fact, the worst cost offenders in both areas are not the IT/facilities providers and the supply companies; they are the end users who buy inkjets and run them on petty cash.

          My own GP is very clued up in this area and keeps a close watch on the local trust to see if they are getting good value for money. Generally speaking, they do. In fact, compared to privatised healthcare in the US, the NHS is amazingly efficient and low cost - which is why we have very similar life expectancy adjusted for social class, but we only spend half as much of our GDP as does the US - and our GDP per head is lower to begin with.

        • If it helps, my support contract for a number of printers and digital photocopiers is 1p/page, and this includes all toner, paper, less than 12 hour call out, all parts and labour do not cost anything. We do have to pay half the cost of a new printer. We only do about 500 pages a week on all printers.

        • Who said anything about a ream? The quantity in question is a box. So about 3p/page.

          But thats still no use without more context. Given the misrepresentation of the PC cost, we need to see a primary source for the claim, not something re-hashed out of a Daily Mail article.

      • A fair point, but the fact they were overpaying by a factor of nine for the copier paper too, which I'm assuming didn't come with a support contract or licensing, seems to imply there was still significant waste going on.

        That is assuming that it is true. Has anyone been able to find where it mentions copier paper for £73? I did a quick search of the report and found no mention of this example.

        I wanted to see just what kind of paper you would get for this much money. A quick search of the net found a real-world example [mayfairstationers.co.uk]. I can't think of a reason why anyone in government would need parchment paper, but was this the kind of thing being purchased? If it was a specialty paper then the comparison to the £8 variety mig

      • It was probably copier paper that met the government's official standard for what copier paper is and had all the associated documentation signed in triplicate demonstrating that it was in fact government approved copier paper of the correct weight, brightness, texture, and flavor from an approved copier paper vendor who probably spend months or years jumping though hoop to become a certified copier paper vendor (or was related to someone in government).
      • by geekoid (135745)

        Paper does come with storage costs, costs to get it to the correct locations, and so on.

        It's always stupid compare the costs of something in ANY large organization then it is for a small group. Overhead and people add to the cost.

    • Still a pretty good deal the company has gotten here. Considering the average office PC costs about 500 bucks, even if they needed two complete PCs per year they'd come out ahead.

      May I offer at the same condition? I can supply that, no worries!

    • Our small office uses Macs, not taking in to account application costs, over the 3 year lifetime I've had this MacBook, it's had £40 of new RAM added to it.

      My previous employer of about 30 had Shuttles running Ubuntu or WinXP, one of which got replaced a year on average, typically due to the PSU blowing up.

      The employer before that had Dells, with warranty, I think we had 1 failure over a 2 year period.

      Each place had a systems team that dealt with user infrastructure as a *part* of their job, aft

    • Meh, it's similar in the US gov't & defense contracting sector, mostly for tax reasons.

      For a largish contractor, if a PC is purchased for under $3000-$5000, it comes out of the expense budget, which tends to be relatively low year to year. If it's over that amount, it can come out of the much larger capital budget, which tends to be much bigger, and the company can take tax breaks for depreciation of that equipment over 3-5 years. So to the bean counters, it's much more desirable to have stuff come ou

      • by geekoid (135745)

        "Meh, it's similar in the US gov't & defense contracting sector, mostly for tax reasons."

        It's true of any large organization, once TCO is calculated.

        Add licensing, support, IT staff, back ups, network access, storage, etc...

  • by amw (636271) on Friday July 29, 2011 @06:53AM (#36919350) Homepage

    ... that this £3,500 doesn't just cover "hardware sitting on a person's desk"; it also includes the software, support, long-term upgrade contracts, etc. This "journalism" sells newspapers (unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail featured it quite prominently) but ignores most of the facts.

    I'm not denying that some money is being wasted, but nowhere near as much as this report implies. See this article [pcpro.co.uk] for more detail.

    • by brunes69 (86786)

      The argument can be made that it is much cheaper to buy a $200 PC and throw it in the trash every 3 months than buy a $500 one with "3 year support".

      The sad truth is the support that comes with most PCs and software is usually under-utilized and seldom needed.

      • by amw (636271)

        The sad truth is the support that comes with most PCs and software is usually under-utilized and seldom needed.

        In this case, "support" is likely to be the infrastructure team within the organisation itself who handle the repairs, upgrades, security updates, server maintenance, etc. It's not going to be the telephone helpline that tells you where to plug your mouse into or what your ISPs telephone number is.

        The main problem is that, like all the other numbers, the £3,500 figure is unexplained. For all we know, it's "total amount that the IT department spend" divided by "number of users". That would mean it als

      • by dunezone (899268)

        The argument can be made that it is much cheaper to buy a $200 PC and throw it in the trash every 3 months than buy a $500 one with "3 year support"

        Not really. It would be an IT nightmare to replace a PC every 3 months especially in a large organization. When a machine is replaced you cant just replace the box when it arrives from the manufacture. You need to image the HD to the organizations need which means every 3 months a new image will need to be created, tested, and put into play. Any custom network configuration or software will need to be installed. Any form of data that is stored locally will need to be moved. Users will experience downtime f

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        The argument can be made that it is much cheaper to buy a $200 PC and throw it in the trash every 3 months than buy a $500 one with "3 year support".

        The sad truth is the support that comes with most PCs and software is usually under-utilized and seldom needed.

        You still need people to decide at what point the $200 should be thrown away, you still need people to setup and install the new PC, you still need people to temporarily install a PC if any repairs are done, and so on, and so on. It's not like buying a calculator, you can't just leave it up to users to maintain their networked PC.

    • Desktops are effectively disposable these days. Buy a new one for £200 every year - or just by twice as many as you need and replace the ones that fail over three years and it's still only about £400 for the three years. Long term upgrade contracts? Just buy a new machine when those fail - you can give the old ones to schools that are still using decade old computer labs. Software? Most of these machines are going to be running Windows, Office, and some department-specific custom software.
      • by cynyr (703126)

        and what about copies of software? a site wide business license of windows/exchange/office? I'm sure there are some more apps in there as well. Hell AutocadLT is around $400-$600 a seat per year, and you have to buy every year, because someone in the chain will upgrade, and then you can't open the files.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          But most users have nothing but an office suite, so using OSS you could reduce the software cost to $0... for those users. $3500 is beyond steep for an average.

          • by tehcyder (746570)

            But most users have nothing but an office suite, so using OSS you could reduce the software cost to $0... .

            So you then have to retrain everybody on the OSS office suite, you still have to have hardware and software support of some kind...

            • Well you could retrain them when the next version of MS office comes out.
            • by Teun (17872)
              Around our offices hardly anyone has ever had formal training in any office suit and they 'manage'.

              What's going to be different using an OSS suite?

        • Okay, now go back and read my post, and then reply. I know it was an entire paragraph, which is quite a lot to read at one sitting, so I'll quote the relevant part for you:

          Software? Most of these machines are going to be running Windows, Office, and some department-specific custom software. The custom software, however, does not come out of this part of the budget

    • The problem here is that the article is seeking to overspecialization something that that really seems like an issue. For instance, I'm fairly certain you can't get a professional office desktop for 200 pounds in the UK. I know you can't get one here for anything like $350 (which would be the approximate translation), and I doubt the UK is overflowing with excessively cheap hardware. You can get a computer for that, but not one you'd want. We're also given no context. I work for a US government facilit

      • Whoops! Spell check is not my friend: overspecialization = over sensationalize. I don't even know how it thought those were close. Clearly I need more coffee.

    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      hm, I have a chunk of metal on my desk, and it doesn't cost me 3500 a year to maintain, I dont continue to pay for the software on it, only when I add new software, and no contracts

      shit even if I paid someone to repair it for me MAYBE 200 a year

  • the summary [parliament.uk] mentions the £3.5k, but with a slightly different context than TFS.

    Given the cuts that they are having to make in response to the fiscal deficit it is ridiculous that some departments spend an average of £3,500 on a desktop PC.

    is this with or without software? add a Citrix licence, SAP access, some security token with a user licence, MS Office, AD user access licence, ... and it is at least thinkable that one workstation is expensive as hell.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday July 29, 2011 @06:57AM (#36919374) Journal
    While I have no doubt that some departments are letting themselves get raked over the coals(or taking kickbacks, better check on that), and that someonebody has been seriously drinking the kool-aid when it comes to the 'efficiency' of contracting everything, I am annoyed by the example being cherry picked:

    A £200 computer is, what, the low-end consumer model on the shelf at limey-Best-Buy? Oh, that'll make perfect sense as part of an enterprise IT system, once we've quadrupled the RAM, upgraded the OS to something that will bind to AD, factored in the cost of Office and whatever horrid application specific cruftware holds the department together, and doubled up on screwdriver monkeys because the hardware that gets thrown into that model changes only slightly less often than the serial number does...
    • by zero0ne (1309517)

      Don't forget another manager to crack the whip when those two monkeys aren't doing their job!

    • by MoonBuggy (611105)

      As I said further up, the far more damning thing is what they were spending on copy paper - you're quite right to say that many factors influence the total cost of a PC, and while I'm inclined to think they probably were getting ripped off, a comparison to a £200 piece of crap as made in the summary is disingenuous. Plain white office paper is a pretty standard commodity, though, and they were still paying nine times over the odds for it, which doesn't speak too well of their purchasing procedures in

      • Yeah, I have no doubt that they either can't manage their contractors or that they have an incentive to mismanage them. Getting shafted on commodities is a bad sign.

        I think that I'm mostly just annoyed because I had to have the "Yes, there is a reason that isn't 'waste and my incompetence' why a gigabyte of space on the versioned, offsite-replicated, battery-backed, redundant-PSUed, tape-backuped, SAN costs rather more than a gigabyte of space on your USB external hard drive..." chat with somebody the ot
        • by jimicus (737525)

          I think that I'm mostly just annoyed because I had to have the "Yes, there is a reason that isn't 'waste and my incompetence' why a gigabyte of space on the versioned, offsite-replicated, battery-backed, redundant-PSUed, tape-backuped, SAN costs rather more than a gigabyte of space on your USB external hard drive..." chat with somebody the other day...

          We've all had that conversation. Usually by the time you've explained all the bits that make it ten or fifteen times dearer per gigabyte, they've decided some time ago "I don't understand, and any time someone tries to blind me with science I assume they're ripping me off".

      • by zero0ne (1309517)

        How do you know that price wasn't the sum of all their paper needs? (card stock / projector screens / ink / toner / service contract / etc)

        I bet there are companies that will give you a almost-free enterprise copier/printer with the contract stating that you must purchase all products through them.

        I am NOT disagreeing with you in that it is wasteful, just saying that if the source is already hiding information regarding the PC "price", they are probably doing the same for the paper "costs"

      • by cynyr (703126)

        hmm copier paper at a govt place may just be water marked, heavy paper, delivered in armored car and such. I could see how that would cost 73 UK pounds a ream. No where does it say what sort of copier paper it is nor does it mention any of the things that could influence the price of the "computer".

      • Given that the article was sensationalisation to the extent of a lie about the £3,500 compared to £200 PC, what on earth makes you think the £73 of £8 worth of copier paper claim is true?

    • This is a government report that seems to be based on a Computer magazines reporting of another government report! - As reported by a Newspaper ...

      Government Report : Government and IT – “A Recipe For Rip-Offs”: Time For A New Approach
      is based on
      Report from PC Pro Magazine
      is based on
      Cabinet Office’s Business Plan 2011-2015

      According to a Cabinet Office spokesperson, the costs cover the core infrastructure and applications – basically anything supplied by a third party, In other

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        None of the reports or articles actually mention Copier Paper at all except the last Daily Mail article?

        Thus leading one to the startling conclusion that the Daily Fail might be completely and utterly full of shit

  • It's just the hidden extra terrestrial tax

    You don't actually think they spend $20,000.00 on a hammer, $30,000.00 on a toilet seat do you?
  • by X.25 (255792) on Friday July 29, 2011 @07:04AM (#36919414)

    It is "stolen". Usual scheme, where cronies get to charge insane amounts of money for something, then split the cash with person who set the deal up.

  • The real story (Score:5, Insightful)

    by igorthefiend (831721) on Friday July 29, 2011 @07:09AM (#36919440)

    Is http://www.pcpro.co.uk/blogs/2011/07/28/obscene-whitehall-it-spending-or-sloppy-journalism/ [pcpro.co.uk]

    Basically, they took something out of context and sensationalised it.

  • You don't actually think they spend $20,000.00 on a hammer, $30,000.00 on a toilet seat do you?

  • shocked, I tell you, that people would spend money that's not their own so freely.
  • Let me break it down , there's two possible reasons.
    One , as other readers have suggested , the article might be purposely omitting various facts or mixing up total cost of ownership with purchase value.
    Two , it's not that the buyers were stupid , they might be to some extent (not knowing the market well enough to shop around for the best deal) but that doesn't cover such a deep discrepancy.
    Most often than not , at least in the ex soviet block , these things are done to take money away from the institution
    • -and it's probably a little of both. It's a shame the newspaper sensationalized the story because they lost credibility for a problem that is nonetheless real, even if badly exaggerated. Tax revenue is like free money to some state workers. I've seen state workers leave their state car running for over 45 minutes while they hobnobbed with a buddy inside an outlying building to the main campus. This happened the last time gas was near $4 USD a gallon.
  • The MP Geoffrey Bacon has been working on this for years. It is simply untrue that MPs are getting kickbacks as suggested above; UK political corruption is minute compared to US corruption because we don't have budget riders to Bills. And in any case much of our corruption is exported from the United States, isn't it, Rupert, Donald and co.?

    The main areas of waste are simply large infrastructure projects that are badly designed by unqualified Civil Servants with unrealistic and underspecified objectives, wh

    • by Chrisq (894406)

      UK political corruption is minute compared to US corruption

      I don't know the comparative numbers but in the UK we hardly [guardian.co.uk] have [guardian.co.uk] spotless [bbc.co.uk] record [dailymail.co.uk].

      • US politicians are more or less allowed to buy influence and votes by adding riders to Bills which entail spending in their districts. The amounts of money involved are really quite eye-watering. In fact, the use of Government spending for pork barrel is one of the factors in the current standoff - the Republicans are demanding spending cuts for things they don't like while continuing to send pork-barrel bills for approval.

        Although the money doesn't go directly to the politicians, some of it often ends up i

      • The number of incidents is probably similar per elected official but the scale of each is probably greater in the US.
    • by Legion303 (97901)

      "And in any case much of our corruption is exported from the United States, isn't it, Rupert, Donald and co.?"

      Rupert's from Australia, which as I recall is Britain's doing.

      Don't blame him on us. We don't want him either.

  • Well its not like the money not spent on IT all goes to good use.
  • President Thomas Whitmore: I don't understand, where does all this come from? How do you get funding for something like this?

    Julius Levinson: You don't actually think they spend $20,000.00 on a hammer, $30,000.00 on a toilet seat do you?

  • I have seen with my own eyes, a government department that uses a company for all their IT needs, and that company needs to fill out a form every time you need to purchase a mouse, those forms and paper trail end up costing about 100$, for an 8$ mouse.....seriously, when no one is watching how you spend the money, anything goes, but tell these same people to pay 100$ for a mouse at home , they would freak!!!

    • by itsdapead (734413)

      I have seen with my own eyes, a government department that uses a company for all their IT needs, and that company needs to fill out a form every time you need to purchase a mouse, those forms and paper trail end up costing about 100$, for an 8$ mouse.....seriously, when no one is watching how you spend the money, anything goes, but tell these same people to pay 100$ for a mouse at home , they would freak!!!

      Sounds like a good excuse to get that $100 ergonomic wireless darkfield laser mouse with the high inertia scroll wheel and adjustable weighting then...

      Seriously, I'd guess $50-$100 is not atypical for the amount of money a large organisation spends processing any order. Partly to blame are the reams of tax, accounting and regulatory crap that firms have to deal with. On the other hand: while the adminisphere are quite happy to explain to you why, in these lean times, you can't have a $8 mouse and you'll j

  • The inevitable review and response to this scare story will produce a series of reforms which will increase these costs by introducing more "accountability" steps that increase the admin overhead. One of the main justifications for these single-supplier procurement deals is that they are necessary to comply with regulations on competitive tendering and other "lets fix everything" laws.

  • Every So Often (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Greyfox (87712) on Friday July 29, 2011 @09:32AM (#36920448) Homepage Journal
    Some plonker comes along and demands to know why IT resources cost so much more than the crap he can buy at Best Buy. If said plonker has any pull at all, everyone gets all worked up for a while and plans are made to pilot a program to just buy all our shit at Best Buy and avoid the costs. Then people start looking at bringing hardware reliability up to corporate standards, retaining extra employees to do away with "expensive" support contracts and licensing software. Then, for some bizarre reason, the project quickly and quietly dies, is buried and no one ever hears about it again. This usually wastes more money than is actually being "wasted" with the "expensive" desktop machines we're using.
  • It seems wasteful to be spending taxpayers money on proprietary operating systems and expensive word processing applications when there are perfectly good free equivalents.

    Phillip.

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