Somerset’s dispute with IBM is “escalating”.

By Tony Collins

Somerset County Council says in a paper due to be discussed next week that its dispute with the IBM-led Southwest One joint venture is “escalating” and that there is a need to “restore a deteriorating relationship with a supplier”.

The poor relationship is in contrast to the mutually content position in 2008, one year after Somerset signed its unique, ground-breaking deal with IBM. At that time Somerset refused a request by Unison for a copy of the business case for Southwest One saying, “We can record, however, that all our cost and performance criteria within the business case were met or exceeded”.

Now Southwest One and the council are in a legal dispute on several fronts. The council’s paper for its cabinet meeting next week says:

“The history of Southwest One [SWo] poor performance is continuing; during 2012 the Client Team have been holding SWo to account; resulting in the serving of 8 contractual notices to SWo.

“Over the past 3 weeks SWo have commenced disputes on several other matters, issuing further financial claims and disputing Somerset County Council’s warning notices.

With a number of escalating disputes, we need to take action to:

• Conduct proceedings

• Respond to these disputes and restore a deteriorating relationship with a strategic supplier.

• Seek to improve value for money and service performance and ensure it is fit for purpose.

• Continue to assertively manage Southwest One to ensure it meets its contractual obligations.

• Maintain Partner relationships

Somerset’s officers recommend to the cabinet that:

“The Leader of the Council authorises the Chief Executive, Deputy County Solicitor, Director of Finance & Performance and other relevant SCC officers to serve and proceed with the defence and any counterclaim, to carry out all subsequent steps in the litigation process and any engagement in connection with the disputes.”

The paper  adds:

“It is also recommended that the Leader of the Council and the Chairman of Scrutiny Committee agree urgency in respect of the above recommendation…

“The Deputy County Solicitor is authorised to institute defend or settle any legal proceedings and to lodge an appeal. This report seeks authorisation to be given to SCC officers to serve and proceed with the Defence and any Counterclaim, to carry out all subsequent steps in the litigation process and any engagement and commit to financial considerations (such as legal costs) in connection with the disputes…

“Due to the contractually binding timetable for resolving disputes SCC officers need a mandate. Risks will be reported and managed through SCC’s governance arrangements.”

A budget exists to support the council’s approach.

The report says that the council is in disagreement with Southwest One over the quality of the procurement service and what payments it is entitled to as a result of savings made by getting better deals through the joint venture. “We had hoped we would be able to settle this through negotiations, but unfortunately that has not been the case.”


In mid-2007, about two months before Somerset signed its deal to set up Southwest One with IBM, an external consultancy report on the proposals by consultants “Maana” praised the “immense amount of research and thinking” that went into the IBM bid.

It said that the “whole of the procurement process, from market investigation to preferred bidder selection has been well planned and executed”. Maana added:

“The evaluation process has been more extensive, well thought through and executed than any we have seen before.”

And look what happened to the best laid plans. Many saw at the time that the joint venture was too complicated and put too much responsibility IBM’s way, but the council pushed aside their concerns.

Who now is responsible for the failure of Southwest One? Nobody.

Thank you to Dave Orr whose information made this article possible.

3 responses to “Somerset’s dispute with IBM is “escalating”.

  1. Pingback: Shared services: Fund parliamentary group of MPs. Filter ‘evidence’ « Calchas

  2. Don’t forget the role of the Official Regulator (The Audit Commission) as the Official Cheerleader for this project and the joint venture from 2007 until 2012 (at a cost of £1.4m in fees):

    Somerset 2008: “The Sub-Committee then heard from Mike Allen of the Audit Commission who began by stating that Southwest One had been one of the most scrutinised processes that he had witnessed & it was to the Council’s credit that it had opened itself up to such a level of inspection. Members heard the Council commended for the value for money secured with the partnership, & also the robustness of the client arrangements that had the necessary funding in place”.

    Cornwall 2012: “The Leader thanked the Chairman of the Single Issue Panel for Support Services for the Panel’s extensive work & expressed the opinion that it was the most thorough process of scrutiny undertaken by a Panel during the life of this Council”.


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