By Tony Collins
This photo is of a Southwest One board that was surplus to requirements.
Southwest One continues to provide outsourced services to Avon and Somerset Police. The 10-year contract expires next year.
But unless Southwest One continues to provide residual IT services to the police, the company – which is owned by IBM – will be left without its three original public partners.
Photo a metaphor?
IBM and Somerset County Council set up Southwest One in 2007 to propel council services “beyond excellence”.
Joining in the venture were Taunton Deane Borough Council and Avon and Somerset Police. The hope was that it would recruit other organisations, bringing down costs for all.
It didn’t happen.
An outsourcing deal that was supposed to save Somerset residents about £180m over 10 years ended early, in 2016, with losses for the residents of about £70m. The council and Southwest One settled a High Court legal dispute in 2013.
Taunton Deane Borough Council also ended the deal early, in 2016.
Was it all the fault of Southwest One? Probably not. The success of the deal was always going to be judged, to some extent, on an assumption that other organisations would join Southwest One.
When that didn’t happen, two councils and a police force had to bear the main costs.
There was also the inherent problem that exists with most big council outsourcing deals: that it’s always difficult for a supplier to innovate, save money on the costs of running council services, invest significantly more in IT, spend less overall and still produce a healthy profit for the parent company.
It could be done if the council, police force or other public body was manifestly inefficient. But Somerset County Council outsourced what was, by its own admission, an excellent IT organisation.
Some at the time had no doubts about how the outsourcing deal would end up.