back to article UK government slammed for Palantir 'free trial period' deal in Ukraine housing scheme

The UK's chief commercial officer is warning a government contract with Palantir was awarded against public procurement principles after the US spy-tech biz got a toe-hold in the Homes for Ukraine scheme via a free six-month trial period. Palantir's approach to the refugee housing scheme closely echoes its tactics in the UK …

  1. xyz Silver badge

    Hold up...

    How many refugees are there?

    Any competent dev could have set up a "system" in days IMHO.

    Disgusting.

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Hold up...

      Mansions, private jets and whatnot won't buy themselves though.

    2. Spazturtle Silver badge

      Re: Hold up...

      And how do you plant to detect which ones are Russian FSB agents pretending to be Ukrainian refugees with a quick hacked together system?

      1. Red Or Zed

        Re: Hold up...

        How is the £1 one going do that now?

      2. Dave@Home

        Re: Hold up...

        Cross check for donors to the Conservative Party would be a KPI

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Somebody should really be looking at how they keeps getting their feet under the table like this.

    1. alain williams Silver badge

      Start by looking for brown envelopes or campaign contributions.

      1. AC-jenkins

        Standard modus operandi

        Couldn't agree more. They gain traction with Airbus as the standard service provider for large data analytics platform just to hire the outgoing CEO Fabrice Bregier after he retired.

    2. Peter2 Silver badge

      By offering a working system for nothing, and then charging if they want to use it.

      As a business model it at least has the benefit of delivering a working system, unlike "pay a huge amount up front, and don't get a working system after a decade". Obviously it's not ideal from a procurement perspective of excluding competitors, but government procurement is such a mess that they will only consider companies with a track record of failing to deliver a working system at all. Palantir does at least deliver something useful for the money, albeit part of the product will be a data mining exercise for the US Government.

      1. jmch Silver badge

        "By offering a working system for nothing, and then charging if they want to use it."

        You should only accept a free trial if whatever data structures and data are created in the project are using (or can easily be exported to) an open standard that can be easily migrated. It's not true that a 'free trial' has nothing to lose... if you decide not to go for it you have lost time and effort, there is an opportunity cost. Also, you have to know up front what it's going to cost when the free trial ends.

        Free trial isn't really free!!

      2. Alpy

        Then this option to needs to still be opened up to competition. Just single sourcing without justification even for a zero amount is still breaking HMG procurement laws.

  3. JavaJester
    Stop

    Poisoned Chalice 101 - Give It Away

    The procurement folks should have known that no company works for free. Any offer of a free system will come with a healthy portion of vendor lock-in. Either the procurement regulations failed to mitigate this risk, or they were ignored. Either is unacceptable.

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Poisoned Chalice 101 - Give It Away

      Some lines from Tom Lehrer's song 'The Old Dope Peddler' springs to mind:

      "He gives the kids free samples,

      Because he knows full well,

      That today's young innocent faces,

      Will be tomorrow's clientele."

      1. SundogUK Silver badge

        Re: Poisoned Chalice 101 - Give It Away

        I spent my entire childhood waiting for these free drug samples. Never happened.

  4. Mike 137 Silver badge

    A major omission

    Considering that the NAO report makes reference not only to Ukrainian refugees but to the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme and Afghan relocation and assistance policy, I find it strange that it makes no mention of privacy among its numerous references to data (indeed consideration of privacy seems not to fall within its scope at all). In the context of Palantir, that seems a significant omission, although of course the Data Protection (Adequacy) (United States of America) Regulations 2023 that came into force on 12th October will allow everyone to assume adequate data protection provided Palantir self-certifies to it. Especiially in the Syrian and Afghan cases this is not a purely theoretical problem as there is still no barrier to prevent personal data being accessed for secondary purposes under federal legislation.

  5. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Devil

    "contrary to the principles of public procurement"

    Oh, does gov.uk still have those? I thought all that was replaced by being a WhatsApp contact with a government minister or in a "VIP lane".

  6. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Mushroom

    How to bankrupt an entire country

    That's what we're heading for. Time after time, the idiots are doing deals that locks us into escalating costs and inferior results.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can't they use the source?

    Can't the government mandate that they must have source code and the right to let somebody else maintain it as part of any contract? Even better if as much as possible of said source code is taken from fully open systems that many engineers will already have skills in.

    Obviously free software is not financially free, you have to pay somebody to set it up and support it. And I would highly recommend paying the original creators of the Free Software to do that, because that would be good for them and they'll be good at it. But at the end of the day if they charge too much you can pay somebody else to take over instead. As long as all blueprints are open and understandable by a competent engineer, you will have the fully open competition you want. Moving to another set of engineers may still incur a cost while they get up to speed, but it shouldn't incur the costs of building a new system from scratch, unless the old system was so rubbish that it needed to be replaced anyway.

    The right to keep the source code and bring in new maintainers would make it a bit less difficult to switch suppliers, and thus the supplier that wants to keep you might have to make their offer a bit less expensive.

  8. Alpy
    FAIL

    And Palantir win a £300m NHS contract...

    You honestly can't make this up. I wonder which member of governments son works for Palantir? Oh silly me, I wonder which Cabinet Office procurement director is in their back pocket, that's more like it! HMG never ever learns, mistake after mistake after mistake with zero consequence!

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