Capita denies school IT price hike

Capita has refuted reports by a government agency that its software charges to schools have risen by 300% over the past three years.

Capita has refuted reports by a  government agency that its software charges to schools have risen by 300% over the past three years.

The outsourcing specialist and software supplier was criticised by the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) for increasing the cost of its software licences.

Capita responded by accusing the government-funded body of getting its facts wrong. "This is an error in the report that we are seeking to clarify with Becta. The actual increase over the last three years is 66%," it said.

About 80% of UK primary and secondary schools use Capita's School Information Management System (Sims). They rely on Sims to file their statutory returns with the Department for Education and Skills.

Becta said, "In early 2000, a typical secondary school would have paid some £570 for annual maintenance. Our understanding is that in 2003 that would have risen to £1,375, with further rises to some £1,900 applying from early 2004."

Capita said, "The increase is accounted for by, for example, an increase in statutory changes from the government."

However, the supplier also increased licence costs to pay for moving the Sims application to the .net architecture. Capita said Sims cost the average primary school £450 a year.

Sims is a series of modules that capture information about pupil attendance, behaviour, performance, curriculum planning, finance and other resources.

The Becta report said schools were reluctant to consider alternative suppliers to Capita because they were concerned about their commitment to the market and how long they would support the software.

Capita's track record in the public sector is mixed. The supplier was fined £4.5m by Transport for London for poor performance during the first two years of its contract to manage London's congestion charge.

In October 2004, Capita was failing to meet 21% of the performance indicators in its congestion charge contract.

In November last year, the Public Accounts Committee said a new IT system at the Criminal Records Bureau, built by Capita, would cost the taxpayer £150m more than originally planned.

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