By Tony Collins
IBM says it is currently in dispute with the joint venture partners on a number of contractual matters relating to South West One, a joint venture between IBM and three public authorities. IBM owns the joint venture company.
South West One’s annual report says that a mediation was held on 4 and 5 July 2012 between IBM and Somerset County Council, which is the main public authority partner, on a confidential basis.
“No settlement has been reached and accordingly the board [of South West One] will be reviewing which of the remaining options in the contractual procedure should now be pursued,” says SW1’s annual report.
South West One’s report doesn’t give any detail on the “contractual matters” in dispute.
Possible matters under discussion might have included a withholding of money (the councils are expected to pay IBM about £585m over 10 years, from 2007), contention over KPIs (IBM did not meet all of its key performance indicators and indeed met fewer of Somerset’s KPIs in 2011 than in 2010), changes to the contract which is being re-negotiated, a lack of remedial action over accounting problems in Somerset’s finance department following a major SAP implementation , a shortfall in expected savings, and the council’s extra costs of working around SAP-related problems .
It is known that a contract renegotiation has been underway for some time.
The contract was subjected to review after the Conservatives took control of Somerset County Council from the Liberal Democrats in May 2009.
The review in June 2010 found that some aspects of the contract had been successful but “figures provided do, however, tend to indicate that the anticipated procurement savings are currently falling short of projections”.
On service delivery the review said there had been “major and minor system problems and difficulties in implementation have been experienced which have often involved Somerset County Council staff in additional time and effort in working around these issues”.
It said that a “significant area of difficulty has been in relation to financial and processing components of SAP which have also had a serious effect on others outside Somerset County Council.
“As a result, there appears to have been substantial but unquantified additional direct and indirect costs incurred by the County Council and others in resolving the various difficulties encountered.
“Southwest One has also provided intensive additional resources at its own expense, notably in addressing the issues that arose in relation to the SAP phase one roll out where lessons have clearly been learned and applied to the more successful phase two implementation. More work is, however, still required as a priority in some key areas where concerns remain around the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery and financial systems.”
South West One is dependent on the financial support of IBM to continue trading, says company’s annual report. It adds that the “difficult political and economic environments in which the company has been operating have not shown any signs of easing”. Somerset has taken back from South West One finance, an HR advisory service, design and print.
“The difficult environment for business, both public and private, will continue to place strains upon opportunities for South West One,” said the annual report.
“There will be specific challenges in the forthcoming year due to the implementation of Universal Credit, the requirements of the Winsor report and changes in regard to the move from Police Authorities to Police Crime Commissioners.”
South West One made a loss in 2011 of £6.8m (a loss of £22.7m in 2010) and has accumulated net liabilities of £43.2m. The company can continue trading, in part because it has the support of IBM UK’s parent: International Business Machines Corporation based at Armonk New York.
IBM owns 75% of the shares in South West One. Somerset owns 11.75%, Avon and Somerset Police Authority 8.25%, and Taunton Deane Borough Council 5%.
This article owes much to Dave Orr who has campaigned tenaciously for the facts of the South West One deal to be made known.
The unsettled dispute suggests that the “partnership” aspect of the contract between IBM and the three public authorities – Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council and Avon and Somerset Police Authority – is at an end. A partnership normally implies a harmonious relationship between the parties.
Is it any surprise that things have come to this?
The South West One contract was signed in 2007, in the early hours, at a weekend, amid great haste and secrecy. The deal was driven by a senior official at Somerset who wanted to take the council “beyond excellence”. But the joint venture had little support from many of the council staff who were seconded to South West One. Most councillors took little interest in the setting up of South West One.
IBM has found to its cost that signing a major contract with just an inner circle of enthusiasts is not enough to make such a deal work. Though some have changed many of Somerset’s councillors remain. It could be said that they deserve the deal they have got, given that so few of them took any interest in the negotiations in 2007.
Besides, it is unlikely that any joint venture which doesn’t have the support of most staff will work, which makes mutuals a potentially better shared-services option.