BBC staff have managed to lose 146 laptops worth a total of £240,000 in only two years, tracking security company Absolute Software has managed to discover.

That’s on top 65 mobile phones and 17 BlackBerry smartphones worth £22,000, the company said after it had analysed figures sent to it as a result of a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.

Absolute Software has done its sums and this works out at the equivalent of 1,656 license fees, assuming an annual levy of £146.50 for a TV licence. This sounds bad and will embarrass TV executives already battling the general claim that the corporation fritters public money.

In fairness to the BBC, a better measure of such losses is to relate it to the number of staff, and particularly the number requiring laptops as part of their work. The BBC had almost 23,000 staff as of March 2009 (the figures cover losses between April 2008 and March 2009), which works out at one laptop lost for every 157 employees, or one mobile phone or smartphone lost per 280 workers.

For an organisation that sends reporters to the far corners of the world, sometimes in quite difficult locations, these figures don’t look excessive. All large organisations lose laptops.

Only one BBC staff member had been investigated over laptop loss, and no others had been disciplined. Again, disciplining staff for losing valuable equipment is not company policy at many organisations.

An interesting point made by Absolute is that only 15 laptops, three mobiles and one Blackberry were recovered. Absolute Software markets a technology called Computrace, which allows for remote tracking of lost devices and also wiping of sensitive data. The technology is as much a security system as a recovery technology.

 “It’s arguable whether BBC laptops are in fact appropriately protected - the sheer number of devices that were lost or stolen and not recovered would suggest the opposite,” said Dave Everitt of Absolute Software.

 “The BBC would do well to ensure they are using the technology that’s already installed in most laptops to track such stolen devices as well as smartphones and recover them, or at least render them impossible, for others to use,” he added in an obvious plug for his own company’s systems.

A deeper question, not mentioned by Absolute,  hangs in the air. Laptops can be replaced, but was any useful or sensitive data lost that can’t? Were the hard disks inside the laptops using any form of encryption?