Closing 142 courts will save less than a year's spend with HP

There's a furore today over government proposals to close 93 Magistrates' Courts and 49 County Courts, which will save a total of £80m, according to the BBC. There hasn't been a murmur of protest, however, over the Ministry of Justice's...

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There's a furore today over government proposals to close 93 Magistrates' Courts and 49 County Courts, which will save a total of £80m, according to the BBC

There hasn't been a murmur of protest, however, over the Ministry of Justice's spend with HP which, in one year alone, was more than would be saved by closing 142 courtroom buildings

It's thought that the MoJ's spend with HP relates mainly to the troubled Nomis IT programme, the main contractor for which is EDS, now HP. When costs on the project soared out of control ministers relieved EDS of delivering systems to the probation service and confined the scope to prisons only.

Even so, the Ministry of Justice spent with HP £120,879,504.53 in 2009/10. In that year, the MoJ paid more money to HP than any other supplier except G4S, which is an electronic tagging specialist. It was paid £150,456,924.60.

The figures were obtained by Kable under the Freedom of Information Act. 

This morning John Thornhill of the Magistrates' Association told BBC R4 Today presenter James Naughtie that there was anger over the proposed closure of courts. It could seriously affect the justice system in England and Wales, he said. 

One in four courts could be closed. "You get the feeling that some communities are going to fight this hard because they regard the principle of local justice as paramount," said Naughtie.

Comment

It's right that there should be a strong challenge over the proposal to close courts. 

Reformer John Stuart Mill, one of the greatest thinkers of his time, said in "On Liberty" that the best decisions come out of seeking objections and difficulties instead of avoiding them. 

"Shut out no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter. He has right to think his judgment better than that of any person, or any multitude, who have not gone through a similar process," said Mill.

So it's perhaps odd that court closures but not big IT decisions are subject to challenge. 

There has been no BBC R4 Today debate on whether the £120m spent with HP in a single year was more necessary than the £80m that will be saved by closing 142 courtroom complexes.

The Ministry of Justice couldn't operate without IT but is it spending too much? John Suffolk, the outgoing Government CIO, has pointed out that billions of pounds are spent unnecessarily each year on public sector IT. He has pointed to the waste on duplicated activity and on the upkeep of thousands of data centres he says are unnecessary. He advocates the use of a common IT infrastructure, the G-Cloud.

Every penny of the £120m paid to HP in 2009/10 may be essential and justified. But at a time of debate about court closures, one is bound to ask whether the savings in salaries of those who would lose their jobs would go towards paying HP in future years.

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