How much does your breakfast cost? My views on the PAC report on government IT spend
That’s quite a simple question, right? But can you answer it? And would it be valid to compare your answer with that of someone else to make judgments on the value for money you’re getting? Let’s look a little deeper.
During term-time, I eat breakfast with my daughter. Let’s assume I’m focused purely on my own breakfast, not hers. I might have some toast or cereal—the former with marmalade or spread and Marmite; the latter with milk (Cravendale, semi-skimmed). I drink instant coffee (heathen), with milk and enough sugar to fill the end of a teaspoon. I can probably come up with an average cost of the Ocado-bought items. Should I include a contribution towards the delivery fee?
More often than not, the cup from which I drink is the one furnished with the word “Legend”. It sets me off on the right footing, I feel. But it was a gift (from Huddle). Should I factor in its cost, some rate of depreciation? And similarly for the Pottery Barn plate/bowl?
If we’re looking at the total cost of ownership, we should really factor in a contribution towards the subsequent running of the dishwasher. Maybe lighting and heating too?
Outside of term-time, I generally pick up a coffee, ideally from Costa. Possibly even a cheeky croissant. I eat these aboard a train, the journey on which I have paid for, but I’m not sure whether any of this cost should be allocated to the breakfast cost.
All in all, I’m probably paying less than £1 for my home-based breakfast, and anywhere from £2.50 to £4.00 for my train-based equivalent. It might average out at £2.50 across the year.
Now let’s compare that to my consultant friend. Her life is depressing. Every year she averages 150 nights in a hotel, her employer (and ultimately her client) picking up the hotel’s £19.95 cost of breakfast, for which she has a choice of full English or continental. Usually, apart from the coffee she doesn’t bother eating breakfast, instead putting most of the continental in her bag to eat at lunchtime instead. It’s unlikely she’ll get a chance to leave the office.
This is what government is trying to do by establishing the price that each Whitehall department spends on its end-user IT equipment. Each one has a different contract with a different supplier. Each contract has a different cost structure. And each department’s requirements are different—sometimes subtly, other times vastly. The majority of the DWP’s PCs will be used to deal with enquiries and payments, likely relatively thin clients; I expect that the majority of those sitting within the Office of National Statistics are more hardcore, needing to crunch oodles of data. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s huge geographical spread will add further complexity to the provision of desktop equipment.
There may be an itemised cost of desktops in the outsourced IT contract. In some, this figure will include networks, a standard software stack, hardware, IMACs, helpdesk, remote access, remote support. In others, it will include every imaginable subset of these.
Departments use this complexity to confound the Cabinet Office in its requests for information. I have witnessed this firsthand. But the complexity of the information makes it very difficult to compare costs on a like-for-like basis. This is an art-form that departments have perfected through years of practice.
According to the BBC’s article on the report issued by the public administration committee, departments sometimes pay up to £3,500 for a single desktop. What this figure includes, who knows? Undoubtedly there are some howlers out there—some costs that need to be called out and reigned in. Big time. But comparing desktop costs both within government and with those that you or I would pay on Amazon is bananas.
So, how much does your breakfast cost?