IBM won bid without lowest-price – council gives detail under FOI

By Tony Collins

Excessive secrecy has characterised a deal between IBM and Somerset County Council which was signed in 2007.

Indeed I once went to the council’s offices in Taunton, on behalf of Computer Weekly, for a pre-arranged meeting to ask questions about the IBM contract. A council lawyer refused to answer most of my questions because I did not live locally.

Now (five years later) Somerset’s Corporate Information Governance Officer Peter Grogan at County Hall, Taunton, has shown that the council can be surprisingly open.

He has overturned a refusal of the council to give the bid prices. Suppliers sometimes complain that the public sector awards contracts to the lowest-price bidder. But …

Supplier / Bid Total cost over 10 years
BT Standard bid £220.552M
BT Variant Bid £248.055M
Capita Standard Bid £256.671M
Capita Variant Bid £267.687M
IBM Standard Bid £253.820M
IBM Variant Bid £253.820M

The FOI request was made by former council employee Dave Orr who has, more than anyone, sought to hold Somerset and IBM to account for what has turned out to be a questionable deal.

Under the FOI Act, Orr asked Somerset County Council for the bid totals. It refused saying the suppliers had given the information  in confidence. Orr appealed. In granting the appeal Grogan said:

“I would also consider that the passage of time has a significant impact here as the figures included under the exemption are now some 5 years old and their commercial sensitivity is somewhat eroded.

“Whilst, at the time those companies tendering for the contract would justifiably expect the information to be confidential and that they could rely upon confidentiality clauses, I am not able to support the non-disclosure due the fact that the FOI Act creates a significant argument for disclosure that outweighs the confidentiality agreement once the tender exercise is complete and a reasonable amount of time has passed.

“I therefore do not consider this exemption [section 41] to be engaged. Please find the information you requested below…”

[In my FOI experience – making requests to central government departments – the internal review process has always proved pointless. So all credit to Peter Grogan for not taking the easy route, in this case at least.]

MP Ian Liddell-Grainger ‘s website on the “Southwest One” IBM deal.

IBM struggles with SAP two years on – a shared services warning.

Council accepts IBM deal as failing.

Was Audit Commission Somerset and IBM’s unofficial PR agents?

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