Of the million laptops Government ordered for remote learning during lockdown, more than three quarters have come from Computacenter. The total value of the contracts awarded to Computacenter is at least £198 million. Its founder, Sir Philip Hulme, has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Conservative Party in recent years and Mr Hulme’s wife has also donated £100,000 as recently as the 2019 Election.
And now it transpires that some of the laptops supplied do not meet the minimum standards set out in the DfE specification and many contain malware.
A school in Bradford which received 90 Geobook 1E laptops via the Computacenter booking system this week found they had been handed devices infected with a malware virus. A letter from the school’s deputy head states: "Upon unboxing and preparing them it was discovered that a number of the laptops are infected with a self-propagating network worm (Gamarue.I). The network worm looks like it contacts Russian servers when active."
An online forum used by school IT experts suggests this is far from an isolated incident - numerous schools have reported the virus to the DfE. Reports suggest laptops have arrived with no sound driver installed, causing access issues for pupils.
And, from what we can see, it appears that the price they’ve charged for some of their devices is almost twice what it should be. The DfE has redacted key pricing documentation from the published contracts, so we are unable to provide a definitive cost per laptop or tablet. However we do know that in September and October last year, the DfE placed three contracts valued at £39.7m with Computacenter. The deal required Computacenter to supply 192,400 devices. This equates to an average cost of £206 per device. But experts have told us they would expect the basic laptops to cost the taxpayer closer to the region of £100 per device. An education IT expert who wanted to remain anonymous told
us: “When it comes to the GeoBook, we had seen similar laptops on sale via China for less than £100.”
The Government is yet to publish the contract award for the additional 300,000 laptops it announced 4 days after we launched our latest legal challenge. So we don’t know who the contract has been handed to - or at what cost to the taxpayer. But on the basis of their track record, you’ll forgive us if we aren’t optimistic about what will come to light.
The COVID-19 goldrush continues for those fortunate enough to have links to the Conservative Party. Sadly this time it’s the most vulnerable families picking up the pieces, and fighting for the most basic provisions to continue their child’s education.
Jolyon Maugham QC
Director of Good Law Project