BECTA was mentioned here many times before [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. Its dealings with Microsoft are a classic case of abuse of public money, which soon becomes a resource for restricting consumers’ choice at their own expense — the expense of those affected (yes, adding insult to injury). This type of fiasco makes a characteristic common to many other secret deals, including those memoranda of ‘understanding’ which we’ve seen a lot of recently [1, 2, 3, 4].
As usual, Mark Ballard investigates those secrecy-clouded BECTA-Microsoft deals. Despite persistence, he is unable to get an answer.
If Becta, a UK government quango, published details of schools’ Microsoft spending, it “could give rise to an actionable breach of confidence by Microsoft against us,” it said. This was a “considerable risk”, it added. There has been growing disquiet in the public sector in the UK and Europe about the ways in which Microsoft might protect the monopoly it has in desktop software, and thus keep its prices artificially high, absorb public money that might be best spent elsewhere, and suppress innovative competitors from breaking through.
Microsoft is embroiled in problematic negotiations over separate MOUs with Newham London Borough Council, its public sector show home, and the Office of Government Commerce, which acts as procurement sheriff for the whole UK public sector.* Becta said there could also be repercussions in disclosure for itself: “We have concluded that disclosure of any part of the MOU would prejudice the commercial interests of Becta and of schools throughout the UK because the significant savings achieved under the MOU would be put at risk,” it said. “We believe that our future negotiating position with Microsoft would be weakened and we would not be confident of our continuing ability to obtain the best deal possible for those UK schools that choose to purchase Microsoft products,” it added.
What business is it of UK tax payers how much a US corporation charges their schools anyway?
BECTA has already come under fire, e.g.:
- Becta’s schools software scheme reported to EC
- Local Authorities avoid Becta framework as Europe opens investigation
- OSC joins criticism of UK education’s attitude to open source
- UK Government criticised for stifling open source in schools
- Becta under fire for procurement framework
- Lawmaker blasts U.K. government on Microsoft policy
BECTA is virtually part of a group of agents of monopolisation, just like ACT and the BSA (both funded partly by Microsoft). While BECTA is not funded directly by Microsoft, there is clearly some strong relationship there. British taxpayers should be fuming. A similar story is being told in other countries whose educational bodies are abused in a similar fashion. The secrecy must end. It’s time for answers. █