6 million wasted licences and £1,200 PCs: welcome to government IT

Statistics released by the Cabinet Office reveal how much the public sector is spending on IT, and how only the tiniest fraction of assets are reused despite government pledges
Written by Jo Best, Contributor

One year on from publication of the Government ICT Strategy, the Cabinet Office has published a detailed picture of how Whitehall buys IT — and just how many of its software licences are lying idle across central government.

According to the department, there are over 18.5 million software licences currently held by the government, of which only 12.1m are currently in use.

The statistics, released on Thursday on the Cabinet Office website, also show an almost total lack of licence reuse — only 668 of the 18.5m licences are classified as reusable.

Whitehall has sought to tackle the question of IT reuse for some time. Last year, it introduced ASK ICT (Asset and Services Knowledgebase), a database of the ICT equipment, systems and services held by the government, intended to give public sector IT buyers a better idea of which assets can be re-allocated.

In addition, recently introduced spending controls for government IT projects should be "used to assess whether existing solutions can be re-used", according to the Cabinet Office.

However, despite such initiatives, only the tiniest fraction of existing IT assets have been picked up by other departments: of the 1.5 million items listed on ASK ICT, only 227 had been re-used as of this month.


Whitehall has revealed new figures on its IT spending in time for the ICT Strategy's one year anniversary Credit: Shutterstock

The statistics jar with the government's stated stance of encouraging the reuse of IT within the public sector. Its position is set out in the 2011 ICT Strategy, whose objectives include "increase[ing] sharing and re-use of ICT services and solutions by government organisations". The strategic implementation plan is the backbone of the government's push to save £1.4bn from IT spending by 2015.

The Cabinet Office's figures also reveal that the average cost of an end-user device (typically a desktop or laptop) within central government is over £1,200. With each full-time employee accounting for an average of 1.2 devices, there are now almost 730,000 pieces of end-user kit costing a total of £867m within Whitehall.

The amount the government spends per device is almost as much as it spends per server, which is listed as £1,622 in the Cabinet Office statistics.

Departmental devices

End-user device spend varies wildly between departments, with some spending almost double the government average. The Department for Communities and Local Government averages almost £2,700, while devices cost the Department of Energy and Climate Change over £2,400. The cheapest devices were found at the department for Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs, which pays a relatively modest £441. By comparision, a 2.8GHz MacBook Pro comes in at £1,299.

For the 2011-12 financial year, the government projected the ICT Strategy would save £160m. The adoption of the PSN, the public sector's so called network of networks, was to provide £30m of savings, with the remaining £130m derived from a moratorium on government ICT projects costing over £100m.

Over the year, the PSN generated savings of £64m, with "demanding a rigorous business case for any significant ICT spend" accounting for a further £160m. Centralising procurement has also seen £140m cut from government IT costs, according to the Cabinet Office.

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