Category Archives: Politics

Does a Mid Staffs culture still pervade the NHS?

By Tony Collins

The Francis report on Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust highlighted appalling record-keeping among other problems.

One of the case studies in the report was that of an insulin-dependent diabetic, Gillian Astbury,  who entered Cannock Hospital for a urinary tract infection, had a fall in the hospital, was discharged, and later admitted to Stafford Hospital on 1 April 2007 because of bones she damaged in the fall. She died ten days later, probably after not being given insulin.

Francis highlights the lack of records on her need for insulin. There was a “failure to keep nursing records adequately or at all … there was a failure to comply with professional guidelines on note taking …”

Astbury’s partner Ron Street told hospital staff that she was diabetic, a point which went into her medical notes – initially.  But, said Francis,  nursing records for Astbury were almost non-existent.

“There is no evidence of what care took place … during interview nursing staff admitted that they did not check or read the notes regularly (if at all) and there was no linkage with notes from other wards …” 

Francis’s recommendations included a call for trust staff and managers to be open and accountable when things that go wrong.

This isn’t happening.

Campaign4Change picked an NHS trust to test whether the pre-Francis culture still prevails: whether there is the same old secrecy and defensiveness over standards of record-keeping, and whether positive news suffocates real and potential problems in trust board reports.

North Bristol NHS Trust

North Bristol NHS Trust has a chronic problem with record-keeping. It installed the Cerner Millennium electronic patient record system in December 2011, prompting a “crisis”.

Later the trust’s PR officer said in response to an FOI request that there had been 16 clinical incidents in two months relating to the new electronic patient record system. “These were all clinical incidents where the new system was cited as a causal factor, such as wrong patient wrong notes, lack of notes, incorrect clinic list,” she said.

She added:  “However our robust safeguarding processes, as well as additional checks and balances in all departments, ensured that clinical safety was not compromised and no patients were put at risk. Our priority is always patient safety and there is no indication that this has been affected.”

Last year North Bristol asked PWC to review the Cerner implementation. In its report PWC claimed that the “Trust is now beginning to move out of the crisis and return to normal operations”. That was in July 2012.

The Trust has still not returned to normal operations. Last month the Department of Health singled out North Bristol as one of only two trusts in England that failed to submit to the DH “incomplete RTT” pathway data. Incomplete pathway data refers to patients still waiting for consultant-led treatment. RTT means referral to treatment.

In August and September 2012 North Bristol was the only trust in England that failed to submit to the DH “incomplete RTT” pathway data.

Trust’s “numerous difficulties”

With little explanation, a North Bristol trust board paper in January this year referred to numerous difficulties relating to IT systems. This was in the context of an increasing number of overdue responses to complaints from patients. Said the board paper:

“Difficulties with appointment bookings and notification letters are still numerous. These are all reported to IM&T.” Again with little explanation another North Bristol board report, in November 2012, referred to “ongoing pressure in Cerner recovery …”.

So what are the Cerner problems, why have they continued for more than a year and has the North Bristol Trust’s board of directors been properly informed about them?

To test North Bristol’s openness on its Cerner problems I asked the Trust’s press officer and its media relations manager whether they could send me any trust report on the problems with the Cerner implementation.

Two days later they said that “some patience would be appreciated” but declined to say when they would respond to my question, so I asked it under FOI. The Trust gave no acknowledgement.

Perhaps North Bristol is too busy to deal with external questions and challenges on its record keeping. But that was one of the big problems highlighted by Francis in his report on Mid Staffs: that the Trust did not respond to external questions and challenges.

Worryingly, North Bristol’s reporting culture seems to prefer the positive over the negative.  This was one of its replies to an FOI request in 2012:

“With respect to inpatients, during November (before the implementation of Cerner) 40 patients were cancelled on the same day as admission for non-clinical reasons. During December (after the implementation of Cerner) 33 patients were cancelled on the same day as admission for non-clinical reasons – 7 fewer than in November.”

This reply – and others  – gave the impression, without giving contextual evidence,  that things were better since the Cerner implementation than before.

Francis in his report on Mid Staffs said,

“… for all the fine words printed and spoken about candour, and willingness to remedy wrongs, there lurks within the system an institutional instinct which, under pressure, will prefer concealment, formulaic responses and avoidance of public criticism.”

This would, it seems, apply to North Bristol – and every one of the other NHS trusts that have had electronic patient record implementations go wrong.

Indeed it is unfair to pick on North Bristol. The positive tone of its board reports is standard practice for trust board reporting across the NHS in England.

Francis said the NHS needs to change. In his letter to Jeremy Hunt on his report, Francis referred to an “institutional culture which ascribed more weight to positive information about the service than to information capable of implying cause for concern”.

But can NHS boards change in the absence of compulsion?

Audits of trust board reports?

One thing Francis did not suggest was that trust boards should have their board reports audited independently for honesty and openness.  An audit would detect an overly buoyant tone that downplayed concerns.  “There were 5 serious falls in December an increase of 3 from November. There were 185 falls in December compared to 139 falls in November, which had the lowest number of falls in one month this year.”

This was from a North Bristol board report that gave no explanation of the five serious falls. But the report made the point that November (2012) had the lowest number of falls in one month this year. If you were among the five who’d had a serious fall in hospital – and in Gillian Astbury’s case a fall in Stafford Hospital led to her death – you would probably want the trust’s board to focus on an analysis of the five serious falls, rather than be told how good a month November was for falls.

Board reports are a window on the culture of a public sector organisation. In the NHS nobody in authority seems not to have noticed that an American corporate positivism pervades many NHS board reports.  It’s within this culture that needless deaths such as those at Mid Staffs went unnoticed.

Until NHS trust board reports become more business-like and deal with concerns and potentially serious problems as would a private sector board – instead of giving the impression that they are trying to celebrate so-called achievements – the Francis report may make little difference.

North Bristol’s apparent unwillingness to disclose any detail of its Cerner problems – perhaps to its own board – is to be expected; but that natural reluctance to disclose may be symptomatic of one of the NHS’s biggest problems. The unnecessary deaths at Mid Staffs will be for nothing if the NHS does not change in the light of the Francis report. Complacency, arrogance, a preoccupation with good news and a culture of downplaying or even trying to ignore bad news are the enemy. Unless a board approach of honesty and openness is independently audited and enforced, Francis’s recommendations may bring little lasting change.

Big IT suppliers and their Whitehall “hostages”

By Tony Collins

Mark Thompson is a senior lecturer in information systems at Cambridge Judge Business School, ICT futures advisor to the Cabinet Office and strategy director at consultancy Methods.

Last month he said in a Guardian comment that central government departments are “increasingly being held hostage by a handful of huge, often overseas, suppliers of customised all-or-nothing IT systems”.

Some senior officials are happy to be held captive.

“Unfortunately, hostage and hostage taker have become closely aligned in Stockholm-syndrome fashion.

“Many people in the public sector now design, procure, manage and evaluate these IT systems and ignore the exploitative nature of the relationship,” said Thompson.

The Stockholm syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages bond with their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them.

This month the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued  a pre-tender notice for Oracle ERP systems. Worth between £250m and £750m, the framework will be open to all central government departments, arms length bodies and agencies and will replace the current “Prism” contract with Capgemini.  

It’s an old-style centralised framework that, says Chris Chant, former Executive Director at the Cabinet Office who was its head of G-Cloud, will have Oracle popping champagne corks. 

“This is a 1993 answer to a 2013 problem,” he told Computer Weekly.

In the same vein, Georgina O’Toole at Techmarketview says that central departments are staying with big Oracle ERP systems.   

She said the framework “appears to support departments continuing to run Oracle or, indeed, choosing to move to Oracle”. This is “surprising as when the Shared Services strategy was published in December, the Cabinet Office continued to highlight the cost of running Oracle ERP…”

She said the framework sends a  message that the Cabinet Office has had to accept that some departments and agencies are not going to move away from Oracle or SAP.

“The best the Cabinet Office can do is ensure they are getting the best deal. There’s no doubt there will be plenty of SIs looking to protect their existing relationships by getting a place on the FCO framework.”

G-Cloud and open standards?

Is the FCO framework another sign that the Cabinet Office, in trying to cut the high costs of central government IT, cannot break the bond – the willing hostage-captive relationship –  between big suppliers and central departments?

The framework appears to bypass G-Cloud in which departments are not tied to a particular company. It also appears to cock a snook at the idea of replacing  proprietary with open systems.

Mark Thompson said in his Guardian comment: 

– Administrative IT systems, which cost 1% of GDP, have become a byword for complexity, opacity, expense and poor delivery.

– Departments can break free from the straitjackets of their existing systems and begin to procure technology in smaller, standardised building blocks, creating demand for standard components across government. This will provide opportunities for less expensive SMEs and stimulate the local economy.

– Open, interoperable platforms for government IT will help avoid the mass duplication of proprietary processes and systems across departments that currently waste billions.

–  A negative reaction to the government’s open standards policy from some monopolistic suppliers is not surprising.


It seems that Oracle and the FCO have convinced each other that the new framework represents change.  But, as Chris Chant says, it is more of the same.

If there is an exit door from captivity the big suppliers are ushering senior officials in departments towards it saying politely “you first” and the officials are equally deferential saying “no – you first”. In the end they agree to stay where they are.

Will Thompson’s comments make any difference?

Some top officials in central departments – highly respected individuals – will dismiss Thompson’s criticisms of government IT because they believe the civil service and its experienced suppliers are doing a good job: they are keeping systems of labyrinthine complexity running unnoticeably smoothly for the millions of people who rely on government IT.

Those officials don’t want to mess too much with existing systems and big IT contracts in case government systems start to become unreliable which, they argue, could badly affect millions of people.

These same officials will advocate reform of systems of lesser importance such as those involving government websites; and they will champion agile and IT-related reforms that don’t affect them or their big IT contracts.

In a sense they are right. But they ignore the fact that government IT costs much too much. They may also exaggerate the extent to which government IT works well. Indeed they are too quick to dismiss criticisms of government IT including those made by the National Audit Office.

In numerous reports the NAO has drawn attention to weaknesses such as the lack of reliable management information and unacceptable levels of fraud and internal error in the big departments. The NAO has qualified the accounts of the two biggest non-military IT spending departments, the DWP and HMRC.

Ostensible reformers are barriers to genuine change.  They need to be replaced with fresh-thinking civil servants who recognise the impossibility of living with mega IT contracts.

Mark Thompson’s Guardian article.

Frustrated with the system – Govt CIOs, executive directors, change agents

By Tony Collins

Today The Times reports, in a series of articles, of tensions in Whitehall between ministers and an “unwilling civil service” over the pace of change.

It says a “permanent cold war” is being conducted with the utmost courtesy. It refers to Downing Street’s lack of control.

In one of the Times articles, Sir Antony Jay, co-creator of the “Yes Minister” TV series, writes that the civil service is more prepared to cut corners than in the 1970s  but hasn’t really changed. “If a civil servant from the 1970s came back today they would probably slot in pretty easily,” says Jay.

Politicians want “eye-catching” change while civil servants “don’t want to be blamed for cock-ups”, he says.

Separately, Mike Bracken, Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office, has suggested that a frustration with the system extends to CIOs, executive directors to corporate change agents.

Bracken created the Government Digital Service which is an exemplar of digital services.  His philosophy is it’s cheaper and better to build, rent or pull together a new product, or at least a minimum feasible product, than go through the “twin horrors of an elongated policy process followed by a long procurement”.

Bracken has the eye of an outsider looking in. Before joining the Cabinet Office in July 2011 he was Director of Digital Development at the Guardian.

Bracken’s blog gives an account of his 18 months in office and why it is so hard to effect change within departments. I’ve summarised his blog in the following bullet points, at the risk of oversimplifying his messages:

Collective frustration

–  After joining the Cabinet Office in 2011 Bracken made a point of meeting senior officials who’d had exalted job titles, from CIOs and executive directors to corporate change agents. “While many of them banked some high-profile achievements, the collective reflection was frustration with and at the system,” says Bracken.

Civil service versus citizen’s needs

–  “I’ve lost count of the times when, in attempting to explain a poorly performing transaction or service, an explanation comes back along the lines of ‘Well, the department needs are different…’ How the needs of a department or an agency can so often trump the needs of the users of public services is beyond me,” says Bracken.

– Policy-making takes priority over delivery, which makes the civil service proficient at making policy and poor at delivery. “Delivery is too often the poor relation to policy,” says Bracken. Nearly 20,000 civil servants were employed in ‘policy delivery’ in 2009. Each government department produces around 171 policy or strategy documents on average each year. Bracken quotes one civil servant as saying: “The strategy was flawless but I couldn’t get anything done.”

Are citizen needs poisonous to existing suppliers?

– Departmental needs take priority over what the public wants. Bracken suggests that user needs – the needs of the citizen – are poison to the interests of policymakers and existing suppliers. “Delivery based on user need is like kryptonite to policy makers and existing suppliers, as it creates rapid feedback loops and mitigates against vendor lock-in,” says Bracken.

– “When it comes to digital, the voices of security and the voices of procurement dominate policy recommendations. The voice of the user [citizen] barely gets a look-in. ( Which also explains much of the poor internal IT, but that really is another story.)”

A vicious circle

Bracken says that new IT often mirrors clunky paper-based processes. [It should usually reflect new, simplified and standardised processes.] “For digital services, we usually start with a detailed policy. Often far too detailed, based not just on Ministerial input, but on substantial input from our existing suppliers of non-digital services. We then look to embed that in current process, or put simply, look for a digital version of how services are delivered in different channels. This is why so many of our digital services look like clunky, hard-to-use versions of our paper forms: because the process behind the paper version dictates the digital thinking.”

Then things take a turn for the worse, says Bracken. “The policy and process are put out to tender, and the search for the elusive ‘system’ starts. Due to a combination of European procurement law and a reliance on existing large IT contracts, a ‘system’ is usually procured, at great time and expense.

“After a long number of months, sometimes years, the service is unveiled. Years after ‘requirements’ were gathered, and paying little attention to the lightning-quick changes in user expectation and the digital marketplace, the service is unveiled to all users as the finished product.

“We then get the user feedback we should have had at the start. Sadly it’s too late to react. Because these services have been hard-wired, like the IT contract which supplied them, our services simply can’t react to the most valuable input: what users think and how they behave.

“As we have found in extreme examples, to change six words the web site of one of these services can take months and cost a huge amount, as, like IT contracts, they are seen as examples of ‘change control’ rather than a response to user need.

“If this 5-step process looks all too familiar that’s because you will have seen it with much of how Government approaches IT. It’s a process which is defined by having most delivery outsourced, and re-inforced by having a small number of large suppliers adept at long-term procurement cycles.

“It is, in short, the opposite of how leading digital services are created, from Amazon to British Airways, from Apple to Zipcar, there is a relentless focus on, and reaction to, user need…”

GOV.UK the civil service exemplar?

Bracken says: “In the first 10 days after we released the full version of GOV.UK in October 2012, we made over 100 changes to the service based on user feedback, at negligible cost. And the final result of this of this approach is a living system, which is reactive to all user needs, including that of policy colleagues with whom we work closely to design each release.”

Bracken says long procurements can be avoided.  “When we created GOV.UK, we created an alpha of the service in 12 weeks … We made it quickly, based on the user needs we knew about… As we move towards a Beta version, where the service is becoming more comprehensive, we capture thousands of pieces of feedback, from user surveys, A/B testing and summative tests and social media input.

“This goes a long way to inform our systems thinking, allowing us to use the appropriate tools for the job, and then replace them as the market provides better products or as our needs change. This of course precludes lengthy procurements and accelerates the time taken for feedback to result in changes to live services.”


More big government projects could follow GOV.UK’s example, though some officials in their change-resistant departments would say their systems are too complex for easy-to-reach solutions. But a love of complexity is the hiding place of the dull-minded.

The Times describes the conflicts between the civil servants and ministers as a “crisis”. But conflicts between civil servants and ministers are a good thing. The best outcomes flow from a state of noble tension.

It’s natural for some senior civil servants to oppose change because it can disrupt the smooth running of government, leading potentially to the wrong, or no payments, to the most vulnerable.  It’s up to ministers like Francis Maude to oppose this argument on the basis that the existing systems of administration are inefficient, partly broken and much too costly.

A lazy dependence on the way things are will continue to enfeeble the civil service. Ministers who push for simplicity will always come into conflict with civil servants who quietly believe that simplicity demeans the important work they do. To effect change some sensible risks are worth taking.

The reports of a covert and courteous war between parts of the civil service and ministers are good news. They are signs that change is afoot. Consensus is far too expensive.

Parts of report on Cornwall’s planned BT joint venture are missing

By Tony Collins

Cornwall Council’s officers have written a 134-page report on the options available to councillors for confronting budget cuts.

It will help councillors  decide at a full council meeting on 11 December whether to ask officers to conclude a joint venture with BT.

The report “Partnership for Support Services – Options Appraisal” is clearly a well-meant attempt to convince councillors that the best option is a deal with BT. The current plan is for BT to set up a subsidiary it would own completely, that would deliver ICT and other services back to the council and parts of the local NHS. BT has no plans for the council to be represented on the subsidiary’s board.

The new report is strong on the benefits of a joint venture with BT, such as guaranteed jobs and savings. Absent, though, are  important parts on costs, risks and local authority experiences on joint ventures and private sector partnerships. 

Secret risks

The report says that the “risks inherent in SP 1 [the joint venture with BT] has been submitted to the Council” by legal firm Eversheds.  A final version of the Eversheds report will be signed off by council officers before any invitation to tender is issued to BT. But there’s no indication that this report on risks will be shown to all councillors.

Secret appendix 

The council’s own procurement costs relating to the proposed joint venture, and further projected costs, are escalating.

In July 2011 the costs to Cornwall’s taxpayers of planning the joint venture  were estimated at £375,000. That figure rose to £650,000, then to £800,000, then £1.8m and now stands at  £2.1m.

“The current forecast estimate of the costs of the procurement process now stands at £2.1m. This is funded from the corporate improvement budget,” says the new report.

There are further costs arising from the partnership, says the report. One example is the pension fund for the transfer of staff which will cost about £10m over 10 years.  “There will also need to be additional budget to create a robust client team [to manage the BT contract],” says the report. This would cost between £400,000 and £700,000 a year.

“Both of these additional costs have been taken into account in the option analysis contained in appendix 2.”

But appendix 2 is missing in the public version of the report.

Also missing  

The report suggests that strategic partnerships are “nothing new”. It adds:

“BT – and other councils (sic) – have been involved in them for more than 10 years. Similarly the outsourcing market is mature and well understood. The UK local government IT and Business Process Outsourcing market is the biggest outsourcing market in the world and there are over 100 deals in operation. Risks are sometimes managed well and sometimes managed badly. The risks have been mitigated by using expert advisors and the Council has senior officers who understand this territory well.”

But the report does not mention that some councils in the mature local authority market have, after poor experiences, outcast joint ventures and one-size-fits-all outsourcing deals. Neither does it mention that the Cabinet Office disapproves of partnerships that lock public sector organisations into one major supplier.

These are some of the partnerships not mentioned in Cornwall’s report:

Suffolk County Council signed a £330m joint venture deal with BT in 2004. By late 2010 the cost had risen 26% to £417m.  A BT spokesman told  the Guardian that the additional costs were due to “…additional services contracted by the council”.  Suffolk has decided not to renew the BT contract. It will instead outsource to separate specialist firms. Assistant director director strategic finance Aidan Dunn said in a council report that “efficiencies can be achieved by dealing with individual suppliers who are experts in specific areas of back office service provision, rather than contracting with back office generalists”.

He added: “Our analysis suggests that it is not necessary to have one large contract, but that our requirements would best be serviced via three separate contracts: finance and HR, ICT and services to schools.”

Somerset County Council’s loss-making joint venture is in dispute with its main supplier IBM. Council leader Ken Maddock said the joint venture was “failing to be flexible enough in the changing financial landscape”.  He did not blame the workforce but the “contract, the complications, the failed technology, the missed opportunities, the lack of promised savings”.

Birmingham City Council is, in effect, locked into a “Services Birmingham” contract with Capita that began in 2006 and lasts for another nine years. The contract has been largely successful but the relationship is deteriorating in some areas, according to a report which was published this week.  The two sides have many problems to overcome.

Essex County Council has taken civil legal dispute advice over its deal with BT. The European Services Strategy Unit quotes the Financial Times as saying that a 10-year contract began 2002 but in January 2009 Essex Council served BT with a notice of material breach of contract. A spokeswoman for the council said: “We decided it wasn’t value for money and we weren’t getting the level of service we required, so we decided to terminate the contract.”

Analysis of other parts of latest Cornwall report

The options appraisal report says it was produced in a tight timeframe which has limited its usefulness to councillors. But who has imposed a tight timeframe? Councillors have not imposed any specific time limit. It could be that some council officers have. But aren’t artificial time limits usually the prerogative of double-glazing salesmen who offer 60% off if you sign straight away? Cornwall’s report says:

“… it is recognised that the necessity for the Chief Executive to fulfil the mandate of Council in such a tight timeframe means that it has been difficult in terms of ensuring full Member engagement…

” … As stated, the timeframe has been particularly challenging and the report would have benefited from more discussions with and input from Members but it is hoped that the Council has sufficient analysis and background information to make a decision on the best way forward.”

Health partners

The report says of the council’s three proposed health partners that “all are keen to promote closer integration, improve services and deliver savings through the SP 1 [BT joint venture] proposal”.

This isn’t quite what “all” the health partners said.

Kevin Baber, chief executive of Peninsula Community Health in St Austell said the only realistic option was a BT joint venture (though the authority has begun telehealth talks outside the partnership). The other two health authorities were not so definite in their support for a BT joint venture – and one of them  wished expressly not to influence Cornwall Council’s debate.

Lezli Boswell, Chief Executive of Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, said:

“It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the Options Appraisal as [the trust] has not been involved in the preparations process and also would not want to appear to be influencing the Council’s debate…”

Phil Confue, chief executive of Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said that the option for a BT joint venture appeared to offer to a real opportunity  to deliver value for money. But he made no commitment to the partnership even if Cornwall votes in favour of a deal with BT.  He said the trust did not want, as an NHS body, to lobby the council over its decision.

“The decision whether to pursue the Strategic Partnership will be made by
our Trust Board of Directors, once the Council has made its decision on the 11 December 2012.”

As the Cornwall options appraisal report concedes, health trusts have the option of outsourcing services to Shared Business Services, a successful shared services organisation run by Steria.


Most of the councils that went into joint ventures with high hopes amid promises of large savings have become disillusioned. Such deals are characterised by an anxiety for a deal to be signed as soon as possible, followed by rising costs, lack of flexibility, high prices when there is a need for major legislative and organisational change, and the discovery that ending a contract early carries risks of disruption to services, high re-transitional expenses, legal action and sunk costs.

Some may wonder if the unforeseen rising costs of procurement – they have increased five-fold – may be a sign of what could happen with costs after a contract is in place.

Given the lessons from the growing number of joint venture failures, one would have thought that council officers would be suspicious of supplier promises.  Not at Cornwall. The officer-enthusiasts for the BT deal don’t mention any of the joint venture contracts that have failed. Indeed those officers prefer the claims of suppliers that failures are in the eyes of trouble-makers, media scaremongers and union activists.

Why does so much enthusiasm at the start of contracts dissipate once realities set in? Could it be that the best marketing people are the easiest to sell to? Do the officials that want success so much overlook or minimise the risks and past poor experiences of others?

Links to Cornwall Council’s options appraisal and agenda for 11 December council meeting on the blog of campaigner Cornwall councillor Andrew Wallis.

Cornwall’s joint venture procurement costs escalate

Barnet’s undemocratic BT/Capita outsourcing plan?

By Tony Collins

Barnet Council is remarkably defensive about its plan to outsource IT, customer services, finance, payroll, HR, corporate procurement and other services to BT or Capita, by the end of December 2012.

After the controversy in Cornwall about whether the full council or an inner circle of councillors – the “Cabinet” – should make momentous decisions affecting the council’s future, Campaign4Change asked Barnet whether it was putting its decision to outsource to BT or Capita to the full council.

Cornwall’s decision on whether to outsource to BT or CSC was going to be taken by the Cabinet alone but Cornwall’s leader Alec Robertson changed course and decided to put the idea of a mega-outsourcing deal to the full council.

Straightforward question

So would Barnet council’s decision to award a mega-outsourcing contract to BT or Capita go to full council for a vote? It was a straightforward question for Nick Griffin, Media Officer, Chief Executive’s Service, Barnet Council. He did not answer the question directly.

His reply:

“There is quite a bit of information available on our website. Please see the links (at the bottom of this post)  …

But was the information on the council’s website out of date? We wanted to be clear on the facts. We asked Griffin again. His reply was polite but insistent: he would not say whether the council was putting its outsourcing decision on BT or Capita to the full council.

Neither would he answer directly another straightforward question on local democracy: Has the decision to approve/reject One Barnet [transformation programme] gone to full council for a vote?

From the council’s website it appears that all key decisions on the outsourcing plans have been made by Barnet’s Cabinet’s alone. This is from the council’s website:

“A decision will be made by Cabinet in late 2012 as to which bidder [BT or Capita] will win the contract. The new provider will start to run the NSCSO [New support and Customer Services Organisation] in spring of 2013.”

Barnet’s website lists as the relevant previous decisions those taken by the council’s Cabinet alone.

– Cabinet, 29 November 2010 – approved the One Barnet Framework and the funding strategy for its implementation.

– Cabinet …2 March 2011 – Customer Services Organisation and New Support Organisation Options Appraisal

– Cabinet … 29 June 2011 – approved the New Support and Customer Services Organisation business case and the start of the competitive dialogue process…

So one of the most momentous decisions affecting the council, its staff and council services is not being made by the full council.


Barnet Council comprises 38 Conservatives, 22 Labour, and three Lib-Dem councillors. Most of them will not have a say on the outsourcing of:

  • Customer Services
  • Estates
  • Finance and Payroll
  • Human Resources
  • IT Infrastructure and Support
  • Corporate Procurement
  • Revenues and Benefits
  • Commercial Services.

The decision will be taken by the Cabinet’s 10 councillors, and perhaps not all of them. Is this local democracy in action?

Accusations of Maladministration?

Given that the decision to outsource to BT or Capita could have a major effect on the council’s future for good or ill, and is controversial –councils including Suffolk and Cornwall are rethinking large outsourcing plans – could Barnet’s decision not to put its outsourcing plans to a vote of the full council leave the Cabinet open to accusations of maladministration if things turn sour?

Links provided by Nick Griffin (1)  (2)

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.

A mega-outsourcing plan in Cornwall beset by naive fanaticism?

By Tony Collins

Comment and analysis

An inner circle of councillors at Cornwall council is rushing plans to sign a big outsourcing deal despite a council vote against it.  The aims of the deal include an IT-based transformation of services,  the creation of “up to” 500 new jobs and tens of millions of pounds in savings – all too good to be true? 

The warning signs are there. The council’s remarkable naivety,  a hurried enthusiasm for signing a deal, and a confident waving aside of internal and external concerns,  may be early indications of a possible disaster.  An internal report warns of a potential “catastrophe” over service delivery.

 If all turns sour could accusations of maladministration follow? Is there still time for the full council to stop the inner circle from pressing ahead with a contract signing?

Major IT suppliers have some exceptional salespeople. They don’t merely sell hardware, software and services. They inspire. They rouse to action. Their promises are believable because they believe them with a conviction that can be contagious.

Joe Galloway might have been a one-off.  He was managing director of a part of one of the world’s largest IT companies EDS (now HP).  He helped to strike a CRM [Customer Relationship Management] deal with BSkyB in 2000. The contract ended in a £709m legal dispute in which Galloway was a main witness for HP. The judge in the case of BSkyB v HP found that some of Galloway’s evidence was untrue.

He demonstrated an “astounding ability to be dishonest, making up a whole story about being in St John [part of the Virgin Islands], working there and studying at Concordia College. EDS properly distance themselves from his evidence and realistically accept that his evidence should be treated with caution,” said the judge.

The judge also said

“I am driven to the conclusion that he proffered timescales (on the CRM project) which he thought were those which Sky desired, without having a reasonable basis for doing so and knowing that to be the position… I consider that he acted deliberately in putting forward the timescales knowing that he had no proper basis for those timescales. At the very least he was reckless, not caring whether what he said was right or wrong.”

During the High Court hearing, when HP discovered Galloway’s dishonesty, it sacked him.

He had held a senior position at EDS and the company’s customer BSkyB believed what he had said.  The case cost HP £318m plus tens of millions of pounds in legal fees – and the dispute lasted more than seven years. HP, it could be said, became a victim of some of the statements made by one of its executives.

The point about mentioning the case is that supplier promises, even if made with the best of intentions, may in the end come to nothing – or worse, a costly and prolonged legal dispute. Good intentions were behind the setting up of a joint venture between IBM and Somerset County Council – Southwest One – in 2007. The two sides are now immersed in a legal dispute that looks like going to court. Other councils have gone into joint ventures with major IT suppliers only to be disappointed.

So why do councils still want to sign mega outsourcing deals?

Councils keen to enter a large outsourcing deal become convinced that failures of such ventures elsewhere do not apply to them because their plans are unique. Indeed Cornwall council says on its website:

“Our strategic partnership is unlike any that has happened before, and as such, we cannot compare our programme accurately to others.”

But how do potential suppliers explain failing contracts?

In talks with potential customers IT companies correct or clarify reports in the media about outsourcing deals that have failed or are failing. It is customary during the bidding process for salespeople to take potential clients to reference sites where the representatives will agree that the media reports of a failing partnership were inaccurate or hyperbolic.

[Councils that have signed failing outsourcing deals will sometimes be reluctant to publicise the fact – and may put on a brave face in which they align themselves with the supplier; until a council changes hands, as at Somerset County Council, when a new administration is happy to publicise the mistakes of the last, and the full extent of the problems begins to emerge publicly.]

Cornwall council says on its website that it has received responses from its two shortlisted suppliers BT and CSC to specific negative press articles. The Council is now untroubled by any of the articles.

Says Cornwall

 “The feedback we received from the references contacted were balanced and gave us no significant causes for concern… We do need to reflect that these are press stories and we know only too well from our own experience that you can find negative reports on most major companies if you look for them.

“As global companies, it is to be expected that you will find a whole range of perspectives on each; it is important we take a balanced and independent view.  Please be assured that we will continue to work with both companies to deal with any issues that may arise throughout the procurement process and beyond…”

Articles BT and CSC were not asked to respond to included one in the Financial Times which said of NHS IT contracts:

“There are big doubts as to whether the government can fire BT and CSC, its two main suppliers, without paying huge sums in compensation.”

Cornwall says it continues to monitor press coverage, with the help of BT and CSC. It suggests that articles not yet written may be biased.

“… We actively monitor the press, and both companies [BT and CSC] make sure that they let us know if a negative or positive story is going to break, making sure that we understand the background. It is important to note that these articles do not always present an unbiased view,” says Cornwall.

Does setting up a “critical friend” group give a false assurance?

On the face of it Cornwall deserves praise for setting up an independent panel of “critical friends” to scrutinise the council’s outsourcing plans. It is called the “Support Services Single Issue Panel” which comprises mostly Cornwall councillors. It had help from, among others, council officers, and BT and CSC. The Panel also visited some customers of BT and CSC that the suppliers chose.

But when the Panel later expressed serious concerns about Cornwall’s outsourcing plans the council’s inner circle simply replied that it did not accept those concerns. This may strike some as a naive response to real risks.

This was part of the council’s response to the Panel:

“We do not accept the magnitude of some of the risks raised in the SIP [Single Issue Panel]. This includes the risk of service delivery failure and the risk of losing senior officers to the partner. Nor do we think there is a significant conflict between profitable trading and a public service commitment. We do not think our timescales are risking service delivery but will advocate delaying those timescales if this is judged necessary to protect the Council’s interests and/or to achieve greater contractual benefit…”

Is there a danger the council will use the setting up of the critical friend group to say that it has considered all the risks – even if it has considered then dismissed the most serious of them?

A poor supplier would be in breach of contract – but then what?

To the Panel’s concerns that the joint venture may fail to deliver, or costs escalate, Cornwall responds that if its suppliers do not deliver they will be in breach of contract.

But then what?

Said the council:

“The contract obliges the strategic partner to deliver. Any initial failure to deliver would be dealt with through a service credit arrangement. Persistent failures would represent a breach of contractual conditions which would lead to breach of contract where the Cornwall Partners would exit the contract.

“The cost for this would be picked up by the strategic partner. Financial difficulty is covered by a guarantee that the parent company would step in and continue delivery. Costs are largely within our control…”

Is it straightforward to exit a contract after an alleged breach of contract? The Department of Health was in dispute with CSC over alleged breaches of contract on the National Programme for IT, NPfIT. CSC made it clear in its statements to US regulators that the DH was unable to exit the NPfIT contracts without large payments. CSC and the Department ended up accusing each other of breaches of contract which made negotiations for a settlement long and costly.

Heading for claims of maladministration?

Is Cornwall being naive when it says simply that after any breach of contract the council “would exit the contract”? In the past this has been the legal cycle of events in some major legal disputes on IT contracts

– Customer alleges breach of contract

– Supplier makes counter-claim

– Customer withholds money

– Supplier instigates legal action

– Customer wishes to exit contract but cannot because of potential costs, counter-claims and need for supplier’s cooperation to maintain existing services.

– Long and costly settlement negotiations – which is good for lawyers – while service delivery remains in the “hold” position, unresponsive to changes that may need to be made or remedial action that may need to be taken.

International IT companies are experts in the legal side of contracts and dealing with disputes. Do Cornwall’s ruling councillors believe that the council’s expertise and legal advice would trump the supplier’s in the event of an alleged breach of contract?

When Cornwall says that in a breach of contract it would exit the contract and “the cost for this would be picked up by the strategic partner”, do the council’s ruling councillors trust that the supplier would say to the council in any dispute, “Let us know your costs of exiting the contract and we’ll settle up.”

There is another worrying sign of Cornwall’s apparent naivety. The council says “The costs would only escalate if the Cornwall Partners make changes to the services required.”

Unforeseen change is endemic in the public sector: governments change, policies change, legislation changes, organisations change, particularly the NHS which is a potential party to Cornwall’s outsourcing plans.

Is any public authority that signs up to a large and complex outsourcing deal on the basis of ‘no unforeseen change’ leaving itself open to accusations of maladministration?

Has Cornwall’s democratic process broken down?

The most extraordinary single thing about Cornwall’s outsourcing plans is that, at a full council meeting on 4 September, a majority of councillors voted against a deal but the inner circle is going ahead anyway.

Says the council’s website: “A motion calling on Cornwall Council to change its decision to enter into a partnership with the private sector to deliver a range of support services was supported by a majority of 17 Members following a three hour debate at County Hall on 04 September.”

[The motion was put and seconded by two councillors, Andrew Wallis and Andrew Long, who are not members of the major political parties.]

In dismissing the vote of the council, a spokesman for Cornwall’s pro-outsourcing group said

“All the concerns which have been raised today have already been considered by the Cabinet… This is a very complex proposal and unfortunately the decision by Members not to move into private session meant that we were unable to share the detailed confidential information they needed to make an informed decision”.

Should the Council rush to sign a deal?

Somerset County Council’s joint venture was characterised by a rush to sign, which culminated in the signing at 2am at the weekend. The failed NHS IT plan was also notable among potential suppliers for the haste before the signing of contracts, as was the failed Firecontrol contract. Is Cornwall’s deal being rushed? Cornwall’s Support Services Single Issue Panel said

“The timetable restrictions placed on the SIP [Single Issue Panel] has condensed the available time such that this report has had to be compiled within one working day. Had the timetable slipped by just that one day it is certain that no report would have been submitted.”

The Panel also said

“The risk is that this timescale is far too short for detailed evaluation and due diligence to be carried out. This is a significant value contract. The estimated value of the contract in the Prospectus for Cornwall …was £210m to £800m. The current estimated value is not known to the Panel…”

The council’s inner circle concedes that its timescales are “tight but achievable”.


When outsourcing plans have taken up much time and money there is always a danger a contract will have to be signed to justify the effort.  But would the signing of a mega deal at Cornwall be a triumph of ideology over objective reasoning?

One has to wonder how a mega outsourcing deal can improve services, provide a good profit margin for an international IT company, save the council money and create hundreds of jobs. Doesn’t something have to give? Is there so much inefficiency, and so much money floating around the council and its potential NHS partners, that a major supplier can cut tens of millions of pounds, spend to transform services, and make money?

In evidence to MPs last year SOCITM, which represents ICT professionals in councils, said of outsourcing ICT that it “carries many risks for local authorities and can come at a heavy price”.

Some praise for Cornwall’s approach

Cornwall’s ruling councillors should be applauded for two things:

– There is every sign that the inner circle’s plans are motivated are by the best of intentions: to save money, improve services, protect existing jobs and create more.

– Although some criticise the council’s lack of openness, the inner circle is not hiding all of its papers and discussions in a blanket of secrecy. It has published the report of the “critical friend” Panel and the council’s responses. There is much information – and links – on the planned deal on the council’s website. This doesn’t always happen in the run-up to a large public sector outsourcing contract.

But good intentions do not make up for naivety and a wish for outsourcing that may border on fanaticism – the pursuit of a Cause whatever the dangers.

If a majority of councillors at a full council meeting cannot stop the signing of a mega-deal can anyone?

It appears that a tiny group within the council will make the final decision – although it is arguably the most momentous decision in the council’s history.

Says the council: “The final approval of, and the date for, the issuing of the said invitations to submit final tenders be determined by the Chief Executive in consultation with the Leader of the Council and the Portfolio Holders for Environment, Waste Management Policy and Shared Services, Health and Wellbeing and Human Resources and Corporate Resources.”

The final decision is due next month. If Cornwall enters a deal in which it relies on the contract to protect services and the council’s reputation is it being naive? Could it end up facing accusations of maladministration, particularly after side-lining a council vote against the deal?


Thank you to Dave Orr and a journalist in Cornwall for your emails on Cornwall’s outsourcing plans.

Council says its joint venture is failing – BBC

Some papers on Cornwall’s outsourcing plans

Local MP’s website on Southwest One.

An ill-judged outsourcing?

DWP starts media campaign on Universal Credit IT tomorrow

By Tony Collins

The Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has told MPs his department is launching a “major exercise” tomorrow to inform the media about Universal Credit, including progress with the IT project.

The public relations push will include a demonstration to journalists of the Univeral Credit front-end, and an explanation of the ability of “agile” to rectify problems as you go along. Duncan Smith said there is a lot of ignorance in the media, and suppositions, that need tackling head on.

His full statement on the PR campaign is at the foot of this article.


Iain Duncan Smith’s remarks to MPs sound remarkably like the statements that were made in the early part of the National Programme for IT in the NHS, when DH ministers and senior officials were anxious to correct ignorance and suppositions in the media – and to show journalists the front end of new electronic patient record systems.

Several times journalists were invited to Richmond house in Whitehall, the HQ of the DH, to hear how well the NPfIT was going. So anxious were the minister and leading officials to give a good impression of the programme that, on one occasion, trade journalists who had an insight into the NPfIT’s progress and could ask some awkward questions in front of the general media were barred from attending.

I would like Universal Credit to succeed. In concept it simplifies the excessively complex and costly benefit system. The worrying thing about the scheme, apart from the DWP’s overly sensitive reactions to scepticism in the media, is the way UC seems to be following the path which led to NPfIT’s downfall.

The Secretary of State attacks the media while trying to show UC in a glowing light and at the same time keeps secret all the DWP’s interview reviews and reports on actual progress. Duncan Smith says that the DWP wants to be open on UC but his department is turning down FOI requests.

There is no doubt that Duncan Smith has a conviction that the programme is on course, on budget, and will deliver successfully. But there still a morass of uncertainty for the DWP to contend with, and lessons to be learnt from pilots, some of which could be important enough to require a fundamental re-think. That’s to say nothing of HMRC’s Real-Time Information project which is part of UC.

Duncan Smith says the UC project is not due to be complete until 2017 which gives the DWP ample time to get it right. But ministers and officials in the last administration gave the NPfIT 10 years to complete; and today, nine years later, the scheme is being officially dismantled.

Did NPfIT ministers really know or understand the extent of the project’s true complexities and uncertainties?  Did they fully grasp the limited ability of suppliers to deliver, or the willingness of the NHS to change?  But they were impressed with the patient record front-end system and they organised several Parliamentary events to demonstrate it to MPs.

The NPfIT public relations exercises – which included DH-sponsored DVDs and a board game to market the NPfIT – were all in the end pointless.

Should Duncan Smith be running Universal Credit?

This is another concern. Duncan Smith is much respected and admired in Parliament but he appears too close to UC to be an objective leader. At a hearing of the Work and Pensions this week Duncan Smith took mild criticism of UC as if it were a verbal attack on his child.

It is doubtful anyone working for Duncan Smith would dare give him bad news on UC , though he attends lots of departmental meetings. Doubtless he listens to all those who agree with him, those who are walking press releases on the progress of the UC programme. He’d be a good marketing/PR man on UC. But surely not its leader. Not the one making the most important decisions. For that you would need somebody who’s free from the politics, who is independently minded, and who welcomes informed criticism.

Is there any point in a demo of front-end systems?

Seeing a front-end system means little or nothing. The question is will it work in practice when it is scaled up, when exceptions come to light, and when large numbers of people try to contact the helpdesks because they cannot get to grips with the technology and the interfaces,  or have particular difficulties with their claim.

What will a media campaign achieve?

If the NPfIT experiences are anything to go by, journalists who criticise the UC project will be made to feel stupid or uninformed.

In a totalitarian regime the media could be forced to publish what the government wants people to believe. Will the DWP’s PR campaign be designed to achieve the same end without the slightest attempt at coercion?

Duncan Smith’s comments to MPs

Below is some of what Iain Duncan Smith told Work and Pensions Committee MPs this week. He had been asked by a Committee MP to have a dialogue with the media to ensure that people believe that Universal Credit is a good thing.

Duncan Smith:

“On Thursday we are carrying out a major exercise in informing the median about what we are doing, looking at the system front-end, about budgets and all the elements the committee has been inquiring into.

“We will take them through that, show them that. We are going to open up much more. It is such an important system that I want people to learn what it is all about.  There is a lot of ignorance in the media and suppositions made; things that are important to tackle head on. Everyone says you mustn’t have a big bang; you are not going to be ready in time. The time we deliver this is 2017 when it is complete.  That is over four years…”

IBM in dispute with its joint venture partners on £585m contract

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.

IBM struggles with SAP two years on – a shared services warning?

IBM-led model partnership based on SAP makes loss

Well done Eric Pickles – more open government to engulf councils

By Tony Collins

Few people have noticed but changes to the law next month could force councils to be much more open about big spending decisions including those that involve contracting out IT and other services.

It is a pity though that similar changes will not apply to the NHS.

The Local Government Association says that councils are already more open than Whitehall which is true.

Even so some councils are innately secretive about IT-related spending decisions, and discussions about projects that go wrong. Somerset County Council was notoriously secretive about its Southwest One joint venture with IBM in 2007. The deal has not made the expected savings and has consistently made losses. IBM claims the deal is a success.

Haringey Council’s “Tech refresh” project which went way over budget is another example. Evasive answers to opposition questions and meetings in secret were the norm.

Liverpool City Council was extraordinarily defensive and secretive about progress or otherwise on its Liverpool Direct Ltd joint venture with BT. The deal included giving BT control of IT.

Better public scrutiny

Now Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has announced that changes to the law will mean that all decisions including those affecting budgets and local services will have to be taken in an open and public forum.

Ministers have put new regulations before Parliament that would come into force next month to extend the rights of people to attend all meetings of a council’s executive, its committees and subcommittees.

Pickles says the changes will result in greater public scrutiny. “The existing media definition will be broadened to cover organisations that provide internet news thereby opening up councils to local online news outlets. Individual councillors will also have stronger rights to scrutinise the actions of their council.

“Any executive decision that would result in the council incurring new spending or savings significantly affecting its budget or where it would affect the communities of two or more council wards will have to be taken in a more transparent way as a result.”

Councils will no longer be able to cite political advice as justification for closing a meeting to the public and press. Any intentional obstruction or refusal to supply certain documents could result in a fine for the individual concerned.

The changes clarify the limited circumstances where meetings can be closed, for example, where it is likely that a public meeting would result in the disclosure of confidential information. Where a meeting is due to be closed to the public, the council must now justify why that meeting is to be closed and give 28 days notice of such decision.

Chris Taggart, of, which has long championed the need to open council business up to public scrutiny, said

“In a world where hi-definition video cameras are under £100 and hyperlocal bloggers are doing some of the best council reporting in the country, it is crazy that councils are prohibiting members of the public from videoing, tweeting and live-blogging their meetings.”

These are the changes to be made by the  The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012 (the 2012 Regulations) which will come into force on 10 September 2012.

– Local authorities will have to provide reasonable facilities for members of the public to report council proceedings (regulation 4). This will make it easier for new ‘social media’ reporting of council executive meetings, opening proceedings to blogging, tweeting and hyper-local news/forum reporting.

– In the past council executives could hold meetings in private without giving public notice. From 10 September 2010 councils must give 28 days notice where a meeting is to be held in private, during which time people may make representations on why the meeting should be held in public. When the council wants to over-ride the notice period, it must publish a notice as soon as reasonably practicable explaining why the meeting is urgent and cannot be deferred (regulation 5).

– A document explaining the key decision to be made, the matter in respect of which a decision would be made, the documents to be considered before the decision is made, and the procedures for requesting details of those documents, has to be published (regulations 9).

– The new regulations create a presumption that all meetings of the executive, its committees and subcommittees are to be held in public (regulation 3) unless a narrowly-defined legal exception applies.

– Where the council has a document that contains materials relating to a business to be discussed at a public meeting, members of the local authority have additional rights to inspect such a document at least five days before the meeting (regulation 16). Previously no timescale existed.

– Where the council decides not to release the whole or part of a document to a member of an overview and scrutiny committee as requested by a councillor, it must provide a written statement to explain the reasons for not releasing such document (regulation 17).

– Documents relating to a key decision including background papers must be on the relevant local authority’s website (regulations 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 14, 15, and 21).


Well done to Eric Pickles and the coalition. These are important and welcome changes. If council decision-makers know their discussions will be open to scrutiny they may give proper consideration to risks as well as the potential benefits of big IT-related investments. With inadequate scrutiny the potential benefits often drive decisions, which was the case with the flawed setting up of Southwest One. The press office at Liverpool City Council was so used to controlling information that its spokesman was outraged at questions we asked about its outsourcing venture with BT.

But what about the NHS?

It’s a pity the NHS is not subject to the new legal changes. Few trusts are open about their big IT-related investments; and when things go wrong, as has happened with some Cerner implementations, NHS trusts tend to lock all the doors, talk in whispers and instruct their press offices to issue statements that claim “teething troubles” have been largely addressed. The trust and everyone reading the statement know it is disingenuous but the facts to prove it are kept under wraps.

Organisations such as Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust are taking decisions about major IT upgrades that could affect the safety, health and lives of patients without proper scrutiny. Pickles may want to mention his legal innovations to Andrew Lansley.

Eric Pickles announcement on opening up council discussions and decisions