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Free laptops programme loses key supplier

RM has left the Government's Home Access Programme under a cloud as it failed to agree terms with the Government.

students around computer

One of the country's largest computer suppliers to schools has become the first casualty of the Government's free laptop programme.

RM Education has exited the Home Access Programme, it emerged today, with little explanation from the Government. RM and Becta, the Government agency responsible for administering the scheme, appeared to have failed to agree terms.

IT PRO understands that RM's place in the scheme has now been given to PC retailer Comet.

Becta launched the 300 million scheme with a pilot phase in February 2009, offering free laptops and internet access to the country's poorest families.

It approved a list of final suppliers for full roll-out of the scheme in December 2009 and added four more suppliers this month.

RM proudly trumpeted its involvement in the pilot phase, branding it "perfect sense". However, it now has no place on the final list of suppliers. It is the only supplier to drop out.

Becta declined to discuss the circumstances under which RM has left the scheme, citing confidentiality.

RM was more forthcoming, saying the business model for its involvement was not sound. "It was not viable for long-term roll-out," a spokesperson for RM told IT PRO, adding that the commercial returns were "quite poor".

She added that the terms and conditions of becoming a supplier were "very restrictive" and that RM had suffered because of its channels to market. RM does not have a retail presence.

That would explain Comet's inclusion in the programme, as Comet has hundreds of stores nationwide. The retailer has now signed a deal for the programme with rival manufacturer Acer.

RM's withdrawal calls the success of the Home Access Programme further into question. Conservative MP Mark Pritchard said earlier this week that some of the free laptops received by families are not being used and may be sold on for cash.

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