Raspberry Pi enters production, but not in UK

The groundbreaking UK £22-and-under bare-board Linux computer is finally being made in quantity, but economics have forced production to go abroad, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has said
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

The Raspberry Pi single-board open-source Linux computer, designed to bring programming back to home and school, has started production.

Raspberry Pi board

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has said the cost of import duty means it will have to manufacture the £22 model of its open-source computer abroad. Image credit: Raspberry Pi

The organisation behind the device, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, has raised thousands of pounds through prototype auctions and been cited by education minister Michael Gove as a potential hero of digital literacy. However, it says the current import duty regime has prevented it from manufacturing the computer in the UK.

"The first units from the first batch will be rolling off the line at the end of January," foundation spokesperson Liz Upton said in a blog on Tuesday. "Details about whether we'll wait for all 10k to come off the line before starting sales, and about what date we'll be starting on, will come later."

We have had to make the pragmatic decision and look to Taiwan and China for our manufacturing, at least for this first batch.
– Liz Upton, Raspberry Pi

On Wednesday, Michael Gove hailed the project in a speech to the educational training and technology BETT Show in London.

"Initiatives like the Raspberry Pi scheme will give children the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of programming with their own credit card-sized, single-board computers," he said. "This is a great example of the cutting edge of education technology happening right here in the UK. It could bring the same excitement as the BBC Micro did in the 1980s, and I know that it's being carefully watched by education and technology experts all over the world."

Although the foundation had intended to build the computer locally, it was unable to find a UK manufacturer that could make it to the cost required. Problems included a lack of capacity at a reasonable price. Those factories able to produce the right quantities charged prices that "not only wiped out all our margins, but actually pushed us into the red", Upton said.

Import duty

The underlying reason British manufacture was impossible was the UK's policy on import duty, she added.

"One cost in particular really created problems for us in Britain [...] we have to pay a lot more tax. If a British company imports components, it has to pay tax on those."

Most are components not made in the UK, Upton noted. "If, however, a completed device is made abroad and imported into the UK — with all of those components soldered onto it — it does not attract any import duty at all," she said.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation is looking at making the Model A, a £16 version with no Ethernet and 128MB RAM, in the UK as it expects far fewer of these to be sold and thus it will be economical to do in small, cheap runs. The £22 Model B with 256MB memory is going abroad.

"We have had to make the pragmatic decision and look to Taiwan and China for our manufacturing, at least for this first batch," Upton said.

As part of the first round of publicity and to raise funds for further developments, the Foundation has put the first 10 working Raspberry Pi prototypes on eBay. Unit #1 has attracted bids of over £3,000 to date. The first auction to complete, for unit #10, raised £2,100: another unit sold for £989, with the anonymous buyer then donating the device to the Computer Museum at the Centre for Computing History.

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