LAPTOP ROW: Torfaen and Monmouthshire to pay back £400k
12:56pm Friday 18th January 2013 in News
TWO local authorities are set to pay back £400,000 after officials in Cardiff agreed for £1.8 million in laptops and IT kit stuck in storage for almost two years to be put to use.
Torfaen and Monmouthshire had requested that 2,400 laptops, originally destined for Newport schools as part of the iLearnWales project, be deployed to their own schools.
The Welsh Government, which had granted £9.8 million for the project, has agreed but requested a ‘clawback’ of funds to reflect the withdrawal of Newport council.
The events of Newport's involvement were disputed between the two councils – with Torfaen saying the council withdrew while Newport saying it was never involved in the purchase of the kit and never made any formal commitment.
Torfaen council said that it and Monmouthshire have agreed to pay an equal share of the financial clawback of £406,909 to the Welsh Government.
The deal meant that the laptops, worth £1 million, and almost £800,000 worth of networking kit have to be put to use for children aged between 7 and 14 by March 31 and no later.
With the clawback, the deal has cost the two authorities at least £2.6 million between them.
A spokesman for the authority said the clawback reflects that the programme no longer consists of three local authorities.
He said the two authorities are to share the remaining equipment on a 50:50 basis and will deploy it in their schools without "affecting agreed budgets or dipping into reserves."
A Welsh Government spokesman confirmed the clawback but would not discuss how much the authorities are paying.
He said: "The laptops that are now being distributed were meant for Newport City Council who pulled out of the original project. These are now being distributed to other learners within Torfaen and Monmouthshire authorities.
"We are seeking clawback of funds to reflect the withdrawal of Newport council. They are not involved in the clawback process, which is ongoing. It would therefore be inappropriate to comment further at this time."
A Monmouthshire spokesman said: "We’re delighted that our pupils are set to benefit from additional laptops that have become available as part of the iLearnWales digital learning project."
Monmouthshire Labour councillor for Thornwell Armand Watts said he was "puzzled" by the Welsh Government's silence on the size of the clawback. He said there needs to be an investigation into the project "The Welsh Government need to be clear about it and confusion reigns," he said.
"When you see them [Monmouthshire] chopping at the range of school meals and putting charges up... it reminds you of how important every penny of public money is."
iLearnWales project sought to give pupils laptops
THE iLearnWales project was meant to have seen 14 to 16 year olds across Newport, Torfaen and Monmouthshire benefit from 8,642 laptops bought in March 2011.
But amid disputed circumstances Newport did not take part and a third authority could not be found to take on their share of the kit.
It emerged at the end of last year that, as a result, 2,424 laptops had been in storage since then and their warranties had expired.
Then, earlier this year, a freedom of information act request revealed that almost £800,000 worth of networking kit was also in storage.