1. It was passed up from the NHS Connecting for Health (CfH) Freedom of Information Officer (FIO) to the Department of Health FIO. Does this say anything about DoH planning and contract awards? Or does this say something about the control of information in the NHS/DoH? The implication is that the contract is between NHS CfH, not the DoH, and Microsoft. However, it may be that the DoH administers the contract on behalf of NHS CfH.
2. The answer to my Question a) raises a number of issues. We are told that under the terms of the Enterprise Wide Agreement (EWA) with Microsoft the government is not allowed to reveal its cost – hardly seems to be in the spirit of open government.
In the first paragraph of this answer we are assured that the National Audit Office (NAO) considers the EWA good value for money compared to contracts between Microsoft and other government departments – this does not say much for these other contracts. Are they also subject to non-revelation of price clauses? Was the NAO's opinion declared publically?
The lack of openness seems to be in direct contradiction of all the government's hype about the free market and open competition.
With twisted logic it is argued that the non-revelation of the contract price results in a cheaper price and thus a lower burden to the taxpayer. What if Microsoft had to compete transparently? What price Freedom of Information?
This rather seems to mirror the European Union's concerns at Microsoft's monopolistic practices. Was the original EWA an open tender? If so, were there any other bidders? What were the terms of the 3-year extension clause? Is Microsoft undercutting, at a loss, potential competitors in order to gain a monopoly in the NHS? By the time this renewal (2007-2010) of the EWA is up, then the NHS will be so intricately tied into Microsoft systems that it will be obliged to renew again and again ... and Microsoft will have the NHS by the short-and-curlies and be able to charge whatever it wants.
3. The answers to my questions b) and c) are somewhat surprising and inadequate. From the Microsoft NHS website I have since learned that Microsoft has an EWA reseller programme divided up by Strategic Health Authorities.
The SHAs are distributed among three companies hence: Bytes Technology Group:
North West SHA, West Midlands SHA, London SHA South West, South East and South Central SHAs
Clearly, Microsoft's criteria for the selection of resellers and their remuneration are not going to be in the public domain.
I also discover that, as stated in the FIO's reply, that individual NHS entities, can enter “individual contracts” with Microsoft under its Select Licensing programme, without reference to CfH or the DoH. This programme is also administered through Microsoft resellers (generally the same ones as under the EWA) who are administratively organised by SHA. Surely the EWA should cover all NHS Microsoft needs? If CfH/DoH does not know how many of these contracts are held and what they are for, how can it plan for the EWA? How does it know whether the EWA is covering NHS needs?
4. I am somewhat relieved the planned Personal Care Record database will be stored on Solaris Unix servers using an Oracle database rather than Windows servers using MS-SQL database server software. With and by whom is/are the Solaris/Oracle contract/s held? What are the effective dates of such contract(s)?
The DoH FIO's reply seems to raise more questions than it provides answers.
Dear Readers - should I pursue this with a further FOIA request? If so, what should I request? Suggestions please in the comments or by email.