A Welsh council involved in a two-year IT procurement saga has finally deployed its share of the controversial laptops and wireless kit ahead of the "challenging" time restraints placed on it by Welsh government.
Torfaen Council, along with neighbouring authority Monmouthshire, was left hunting for an additional partner to buy into its iLearn Wales scheme after Newport City Council reportedly pulled out of the scheme, leaving £1m of publicly funded laptops and £800,000 worth of wireless kit lying in storage for nearly two years.
The equipment was initially procured from resellers XMA and Intrinsic, and the process was questioned by channel rivals who suspected it was unfair.
Newport denies it was ever a formal partner, and Torfaen and Monmoutshire's decision to procure the kit without a contract has been widely criticised, despite Torfaen's council leader claiming the procurement was "not in any way flawed".
The iLearn Wales scheme is designed to improve learning for secondary-school children in the region and was originally set to cost £14m. The Welsh government was initially to stump up £9.8m, with the three councils splitting the remaining £4.2m between them.
The pair failed to find a third authority, despite claiming to have made "very considerable efforts", and so the Welsh government said in January this year that they could keep the surplus kit themselves, providing they pay a combined claw-back cost of £400,000.
As part of the revised deployment plan set out by the Welsh government, Torfaen and Monmouthshire were told they had to deploy all of the surplus kit – which they split equally between them – by 31 March this year, a timescale which Torfaen described as "challenging".
Ahead of time
In a report seen by CRN, which is set to be submitted to Torfaen Council on 16 April, the authority's deputy chief executive Peter Durkin claimed that the deployment of its share of the kit was competed by 22 March, a week before the deadline.
On top of this, the report claims that the revised costs of the programme have been cut by 25 per cent, saving £4m.
The revision now means the Welsh government will pay £8.3m instead of £9.8m, and Torfaen and Monmouthshire will stump up £1.32m and £960,000 respectively to cover the cost of their equipment, totalling £10.6m instead of the initial £14m which was planned for if the project included three local authorities.
Monmouthshire Council was unavailable to comment on whether or not it has yet deployed its share of the equipment.
In Torfaen's council report, it claims its £1.32m investment has been spent securing Wi-Fi equipment for the secondary schools, a bespoke professional development programme for teachers, an online teaching platform and a data hall capable of hosting digital learning across Wales, as well as access to the laptops for all secondary-school children and their teachers.
The report added that a wireless review has been undertaken by all schools, and "where necessary", the surplus wireless kit has been installed. However, it did not rule out buying further equipment to boost the current infrastructure, speed and capacity of the Wi-Fi in the future.
Torfaen declined to comment further on the deployment to CRN, but in the report, it claimed the deployment of the equipment has benefitted its teaching staff.
"Teachers are led by experts in digital learning and core subjects to discuss best practice, develop their own and each other's teaching skills, develop high-quality digital learning materials and share their resources across all 11 secondary schools in Torfaen and Monmouthshire.
"This is a unique opportunity that has already produced a wealth of teaching and learning resources and that will continue through the next academic year," the report said, adding comments from teachers testifying that the technology has been "extremely beneficial" for their classes.
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