By Tony Collins
Orr is concerned that the council may sign a deal similar to the Southwest One joint venture contract between IBM and Somerset County Council which has been branded a failure.
His email to Cornwall’s members included links to articles, board papers and a BBC regional TV item on Southwest One’s problems. The email provided evidence on the dangers of succumbing to over-optimistic promises. He sent it as a Somerset resident and local taxpayer.
In response, a Cabinet councillor in Cornwall sent a lengthy email to all members which defended the outsourcing proposals but also attacked Orr’s credibility.
Said the Cabinet councillor: “I understand that David Orr was employed by Somerset County Council within ICT before being seconded into SouthWestOne. I also understand that he was a Unison representative and that he no longer works for either company. He has submitted 92 FOI requests between 5 April 2011 and 24 September 2012 to Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council and Avon and Somerset Police .
“Whilst he is clearly a ‘Somerset resident and local taxpayer’, we do feel he is potentially misrepresenting himself by not making his previous employment with Somerset County Council and SouthWestOne explicit.
“We do not dispute the information Mr Orr has provided about SouthWestOne, although it should be noted that he was not in the contract management team and much of his information appears to have been gleaned from FOI requests and media reporting. However, Mr Orr is clearly not well placed to comment on the proposed Cornwall deal …”
The personalised attack on Orr suggests that Cornwall’s Cabinet councillors might have lost sight of the need for independence and objectivity, particularly when close to signing a deal with BT or CSC that could be worth £300m or more.
In the response to Orr’s legitimate concerns, Cornwall’s Cabinet – the councillor uses “we” in his email – appears to have played the man as well as the ball.
Orr has nothing to gain by criticising Cornwall’s outsourcing plans; and his FOI requests about the Southwest One deal have helped to make Somerset County Council much more open than it was.
He is right to warn on the basis of experiences in Somerset that optimistic statements by Cornwall council and the bidders could come to little or nothing. Neither CSC nor BT is infallible. Both companies were notified by the Department of Health of a breach of contract over deals they had signed as part of the National Programme for IT [NPfIT], the UK government’s largest civil IT programme.
Cornwall has had a genuinely independent assessment of its outsourcing plans by a panel it set up. But the ruling councillors dismissed the panel’s biggest concerns.
Pro-outsourcing enthusiasts on the council negotiating with optimistic potential suppliers doesn’t sound like a recipe for a successful deal.
Three centuries ago Jonathan Swift warned of the dangers of over-optimism. “The most positive men are the most credulous,” he said.
Cornwall’s ruling councillors are entitled to defend their outsourcing proposals – and they have made it clear they will continue to argue their case vigorously. But objectivity is all-important especially as an outsourcing deal on the scale proposed could be the most momentous decision in the council’s history.
A meeting of the full council will vote on the outsourcing plan later this month.
At that meeting the council’s cabinet members will argue that, without a deal, council jobs will be at risk. But has the council looked seriously at other options for saving money? By its own admission it hasn’t. So is it really ready to sign a mega-contract with CSC or BT?