The mystery of the Welsh laptops (part 2) – the plot thickens

So we explained yesterday about Torfaen council buying 8,600 laptops having asked suppliers to quote on the basis of a volume of just 400. It looked very much like a "spend the money before year end" deal – poor practice but that was all.

Then a couple of weeks ago, our source, who intitally tipped us off about this, pointed out another piece in the local newspaper, the South Wales Argus.

A senior Torfaen council officer has been suspended pending a council and police investigation into alleged financial irregularities at the flagship data centre in Blaenavon. The director of the Shared Resource Service, Farooq Dastgir, is currently suspended from his post and is under investigation following alleged financial irregularities.

Now, there is no suggestion that the investigations into Mr Dastgir have anything to do with the laptop contract but it is clearly a coincidence that two stories about IT in Torfaen have hit the press in the course of a few months.

Hang on a minute, make that three stories. Last week we got the strange case of the “missing” laptops, reported by ChannelWeb. But it turns out that they aren’t missing at all but are “in a storeroom”.

“..a council source, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed the laptops had been sat in a storeroom "gathering dust" since they were purchased. "There are teachers in Gwent that are desperate to get their hands on these laptops," the source said. "Instead, they are just sitting in store rooms months after purchase."

So how does the Council justify this? Back to ChannelWeb.

In a statement to ChannelWeb, a Torfaen County Borough Council representative confirmed that none of the laptops were in use at the moment, but will be by April 2012. "An innovative Learning Management System is being procured by a tender at this moment and the laptops will be distributed when the software is ready for installation," the statement read. "The pilot phase will commence in the new year, with a timetabled roll out across all schools from April. This is set out in the project plan."

Not particularly good for the machines to sit around gathering dust for (at least) twelve months before they're going to be used then. And the money was clearly spent over a year before they were actually needed, and before the Council knew what software was going to be loaded on them. So how do we (or they) know they bought an appropriate specification?

So all in all, at best, this is not a very impressive use of public money. At worst – well, let’s wait and see.

No comments accepted on this story I'm afraid given the legal aspects.

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