Government unaware how much it pays for e-mail services

Government departments do not know how much they are spending on e-mail services, according to research by Computer Weekly.

Government departments do not know how much they are spending on e-mail services, according to research by Computer Weekly.

In response to a number of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests asking how much Whitehall department paid for their initial and ongoing e-mail services, eight said they were unable to separate the cost of e-mail from services packages provided by incumbent system integrators.

The Department for Work and Pensions said e-mail was provided within a bundle of desktop/laptop services more than a decade ago and remains under the same contract. "As a result, the disaggregation of those charges specifically and discreetly attributable to e-mail is not readily available.”

HM Revenue & Customs, the Treasury, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Office for Fair Trading were also unable to identify e-mail costs. The Home Office refused to respond to the FoI request, citing cost reasons.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “In some cases, departments are unable to disaggregate e-mail costs because of the way we used to buy years ago –  in big, multiple-year 'black box' contracts. That’s why the government has already started renegotiating its contracts with major suppliers to increase both flexibility and transparency of pricing."

The Cabinet Office said in the future IT costs would be more transparent. “For example, the G-Cloud is all about purchasing commodity services in an open, transparent and flexible manner – the new CloudStore lists cloud ICT services, such as e-mail, with their price for the whole of the public sector to purchase,” he said.

Critics of government IT have frequently pointed to a lack of transparency in contracts and pricing as a contributory factor to the high costs of public sector IT. 

For example, research by Computer Weekly earlier this year showed that some government departments pay up to three times as much as others for near-identical ERP software.

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