Ministry pays for 'phantom' phone lines: Report says 6.9m pounds a year wasted on bills

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The Independent Online
THE Ministry of Defence has been wasting at least pounds 6.9m a year on its telephone bills, according to figures revealed in a report from the National Audit Office yesterday.

The report, which calls on the MoD to intensify efforts which are already under way to make further savings in its total telephone bill of pounds 131m a year, reveals that it is paying for a series of phantom lines - including at least one that had not existed for nine years.

And MoD staff in some establishments are still regularly contravening recommended procedures by ringing 'chatlines' or phoning their homes with unnecessary frequency.

The report underlines that the MoD has already made strides in identifying pounds 6.9m savings, but it points out that even in cases where establishments have already responded to departmental pressures to make savings, more could be achieved. Visits by the NAO to just seven locations uncovered scope for savings on telephone bills of up to pounds 600,000.

At present, MoD telephone spending is divided between pounds 61m a year on the public telephone network and pounds 70m on its own secure private network. The report argues that it needs to do more to optimise savings from the balance between the two. In particular, it should examine further bulk discount schemes that are available from Mercury and British Telecom.

Among discoveries highlighted in the report were:

At Devonport the department was paying nearly pounds 100,000 for lines no longer in use even though the base had already taken part in a special 'Ground Truth' review designed to minimise waste on telephones. One line had ceased to exist in 1985 while another was to Alderney where the Ministry of Defence has no presence.

At RAF Henlow in Bedfordshire on one of 15 lines that were not subject to a 'bar' on certain types of number, one member of staff had run up an annual bill of pounds 275 by making 100 calls to public information and 'chatline' numbers. The audit uncovered the fact that while 0898 premium-rate numbers were widely banned, there was much greater access to more recent 0338 numbers.

At RAF Brampton, in Cambridgeshire, pounds 7,400 a year was being paid for 10 lines that could not be located, while a further pounds 8,000 a year was being wasted on six lines disconnected or no longer in use.

The NAO found that of 21,000 calls to 200 numbers which were dialled 30 or more times from the department's headquarters in Whitehall, London, during a fortnight in September last year more than 3,300, or 16 per cent, were to residential numbers.

Ministry of Defence: Management of Telephones; National Audit Office, Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General; HMSO; price pounds 6.10.

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