Microsoft has signed a deal with Buying Solutions, the U.K. government's public-sector procurement agency, in which the software company has agreed to offer its highest level of discount to all public-sector organizations in the country.
The agreement was announced last Wednesday. According to a statement, the arrangement is "a single deal for the whole of the public sector and individual organizations will not need to negotiate their own deals, saving significant time and money".
Various public-sector organizations will also have the ability to transfer Microsoft software licences between them. In a Buying Solutions statement, Angela Eagle, the exchequer secretary to the Treasury, said this element of the deal "reinforces the government's commitment to its Open Source Action Plan by setting up a facility to re-use and share licences across the public sector".
The action plan referred to by Eagle is the Open Source, Open Standards and Re-Use: Government Action Plan, which was published in February. In that document, the government said it would support the re-use of products and services where possible.
According to the Buying Solutions statement, the Microsoft deal "could save the tax payer 75 million pounds (US$112.7 million) over the next five years".
Mark Taylor, chief executive of the Open Source Consortium, told ZDNet Asia's sister site ZDNet UK last week that the figure of 75 million pounds (US$112.7 million) was only a "notional saving" because "the values that Microsoft attribute to their software [are] obvious nonsense".
"No-one has been able to [find out] what is actually being spent by the government on software licences," Taylor, who also heads up the open-source services company Sirius, added. "It's nonsense giving a notional saving without revealing what the actual cost is."
Taylor also criticized the government's open-source policy document, saying: "It's not an action plan because an action plan has specific actions, a deadline and someone responsible for achieving them." He said that "even a mild move to free software in the U.K. public sector would save 600 million pounds (US$902 million) a year".
ZDNet UK has approached Buying Solutions in an attempt to find out how much the U.K. public sector spends on Microsoft licences each year, but had not received a reply at the time of writing. Microsoft has refused to divulge this information to ZDNet UK.