A string of Government contracts for school laptops worth close to £100 million have been handed to a company co-founded by a prominent Tory donor.
Private Eye revealed in October that IT firm Computacenter had been awarded deals worth £96 million for the provision of laptops and tables for schools, to help pupils with online learning during lockdown.
Now it has emerged that, since then, additional contracts worth almost £100 million for more school tech has been given to the same firm.
On 1 December, Byline Times reported, the Government released details of two contracts awarded to Computacenter for 59,900 devices – worth £12.4 million.
Then, this week, further details emerged of an £87 million contract handed to the firm for an unspecified amount of tech kit.
Computacenter’s founder, Sir Philip Hume, has long-standing links to the Conservative party. Prior to the 2019 election, his wife donated £100,000 to the party and, in 2013, Hulme himself donated £10,000 to former Tory MP Nick Herbert.
The IT firm has significant experience in the field, with annual revenues of around £5 billion. The contracts were awarded as part of the Government’s ‘Get Help With Technology’ programme – which aims to provide internet access and devices to disadvantaged pupils during the pandemic.
The lack of widely-available, reliable broadband has been made more acute by the Covid-19 crisis – with many children struggling to access remote learning as a result of the so-called “digital divide”.
Many have pointed to one of the core pledges of Labour’s election manifesto in 2019 – which pledged to provide free broadband for all – as an answer to the problem.
Outlining the policy at the time, John McDonnell – the former shadow chancellor – said it was about basic social fairness.
“It’s about large numbers of children being able to do their homework properly, and have the speed of connectivity,” he said. However opponents of the scheme branded it “broadband communism” – and complained it would cost too much.
Basic social fairness
Former prime minister Tony Blair and three ex-education secretaries have written to the Prime Minister calling on him to act regarding shortages of remote learning equipment and accessibility.
Data from the Office for National Statistics says only 51 per cent of households earning between £6,000 and £10,000 have internet access.
“Children on the wrong side of the digital divide have neither the data nor the devices to log in from home when their schools close,” Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh – who co-ordinated the letter – said.
“In a country with free state education, no child’s education should be dependent on their internet connection.”