National Audit Office Press Releases
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Improving the disposal of public sector information, communication and technology (ICT) equipment

The public sector should plan more carefully how it disposes of its growing volume of personal computers and associated equipment, according to a report out today by the National Audit Office. The efficient, legal and socially responsible disposal of such equipment is an increasingly important issue for the public sector.

Many public bodies have limited information about the volume and condition of the equipment they dispose of. On average, public bodies replace their ICT equipment at around five years; commercial practice indicates that the optimal age to replace such equipment is more often at around three years of age, resulting in reduced operating costs and increased resale value for the equipment.

Today's report indicates that public bodies could potentially generate significant savings, through reduced operating costs and improved resale value, by following best commercial practice and disposing of equipment at three years. Further work is required, however, to more fully understand the costs and benefits involved in changing the way in which public bodies manage their ICT equipment and identify the optimal time to refresh their equipment.

Public bodies, however, need to consider more than the immediate financial value when developing their ICT equipment procurement and disposal strategy. With growing public concern about the environment, the report concludes that beyond consideration of immediate value there needs to be greater joined up thinking and leadership at the centre of Government about how best to secure value in the longer term. This includes the need to understand better the wider environmental costs and benefits from the acquisition, use and ultimate disposal of ICT equipment.

The NAO recommends that the public bodies at the centre of government with responsibilities in this area (the Office of Government Commerce, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Environment Agency), should conduct a joint analysis of how to maximize the whole life value of public sector ICT equipment. This should consider:

  • opportunities to reduce the amount of ICT equipment currently being purchased, through a better understanding of how organisations and their staff use such equipment;
  • the wider environmental costs and benefits of moving to an earlier disposal age for ICT equipment;
  • whether more second hand and re-useable ICT equipment could be made available to other sectors (such as schools) through discounted resale or charitable donation; and
  • how the public sector can make better use of its purchasing power to bring about environmentally beneficial changes in the design and manufacture of ICT equipment.

In addition to value for money, public bodies also need to think about a range of other issues when disposing of ICT equipment. These include vulnerability to legal action, and loss of reputation and public trust if they fail to act properly or fail to maintain adequate oversight of the third parties they employ to resell or dispose of ICT equipment. These risks apply to three areas: environmental protection; data protection and security; and electrical safety. The NAO found that, while there are some areas of good practice, the majority of public bodies have little oversight of their ICT equipment disposal arrangements and therefore simply do not know how well these risks are being managed.

As a result the NAO recommends that public bodies should put in place the means to ensure they have oversight of their entire ICT equipment disposal chain (for example through regular audits and spot checks), so they are confident that all third parties are acting legally, responsibly and ethically.

Head of the NAO Sir John Bourn said today:

Government has so far not given enough thought to how it disposes of its computers and related equipment. Growing concerns about the environment and the increasing volumes of equipment means this issue is becoming more important.

Government needs to understand better the trade-offs between securing better immediate financial value and the wider environmental costs and benefits associated with the disposal of ICT equipment. It should then use this knowledge to develop appropriate procurement and disposal strategies.

 

Notes for Editors:

  1. ICT equipment includes: computer units (PCs); monitors; laptop computers; servers; printers; photocopiers; fax machines; and telephone equipment.
     
  2. The volume of public ICT equipment that will ultimately need to be disposed of is growing. The expenditure on public sector ICT equipment is forecast to increase from a baseline of £2.7 billion in 2005-06 to £4.1 billion by 2010-11 (an increase in volume from 1.7 to 2.6 million units).
     
  3. Disposal can involve: re-sale; employee purchase programmes; charitable donations; refurbishment; recycling; and landfill.
     
  4. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at www.nao.org.uk . Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
     
  5. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 850 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

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