By Tony Collins
When councils make unexplained (and self-congratulatory) claims that they have made savings at the end of a joint venture, it will usually raise a series of questions.
So well done to Nigel Behan of the Unite union for putting a series of FOI questions to Taunton Deane Borough Council about its joint venture with IBM, as part of Southwest One.
In an “Efficiency Plan” published on its website last month, Taunton Deane
Borough Council announced that it was “part of the ground-breaking Southwest
One shared services joint venture partnership, between Somerset County
Council, Avon and Somerset Police and IBM”.
“This ten year partnership, which is now drawing to a close, has delivered significant savings to the Council and has made an important contribution to our finances.”
Unite is not so sure. Its officials believe the joint venture has, for Taunton Deane, broken even at best. Its FOI questions to the council:
- Please will you provide the unitary charge payable by TDBC to
Southwest One/IBM for each financial year from 2007-2008 to date?
- For each financial year since 2007-2008 what was the cost of
letting and managing the contract – including legal costs, procurement costs etc. etc.?
- Re IT – software, hardware and peripherals. What was the value in 2007 of all IT (Hardware, software, peripherals and infrastructure) and what is the value of these assets now, ie what has been the depreciation on this asset class since 2007? What will cost of replacing these?
- What are the net savings achieved by Southwest One for Taunton Deane Borough Council for each financial year since 2007-2008? Will you define “significant savings” (provide a measurable test)?
Taunton Deane Borough Council’s claim of savings was imperious, self-serving and unexplained. The council’s Efficiency Plan looks like a glossy commercial brochure that local residents have had no option but to pay for.
Were a newspaper to make a controversial claim without any explanation or justification, its readers would be entitled to question the article’s veracity.
Taunton Deane’s joint venture peripherally involved a costly legal action between the two main parties to the joint venture: IBM and Somerset County Council.
To make a claim of savings in such circumstances is like officials claiming a mission to space was a success even though the spacecraft blew up.
No rational judgement can be made without a detailed weighing up of the costs and benefits.
Even then the costs and benefits may be subjective. What costs have been excluded from the “savings” figure? What were the baseline costs on which the savings have been measured? And were those baseline figures audited as accurate – or were they intelligent guesses? Have any benefits been double-counted? Are the benefits audited?