Category Archives: shared services

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

Lessons from Birmingham Council’s joint venture with Capita

By Tony Collins

A report on Service Birmingham – Capita’s joint venture with Birmingham City Council – shows that the deal has been largely successful so far but that trust and relationships may be breaking down in some areas.

The “High-Level” review of Service Birmingham by the Best Practice Group could be read in two ways: as a qualified endorsement of the deal so far, or as a warning that a deteriorating relationship in some areas could end up, in years to come, as a legal dispute.

The report’s authors suggest that the council and Capita have little choice but to make improvements given that the contract lasts another nine years. They say:

“Given the fact that the commercial partnership has a further nine years to operate, there is an inherent risk that unless a core focus for both parties is re-established, the commercial trust between BCC [Birmingham City Council and SB [Service Birmingham] will continue to deteriorate.

“Neither party will benefit from the relationship if this situation is permitted to manifest itself.”

In another part of its report the Best Practice Group says:

“BCC and SB seemed to overcome early challenges in their relationship by having a ‘great common cause’. The Council entered into this relationship in 2006 because it had the foresight to realise it had to fundamentally transform how it operated in order to improve social outcomes for its population…

“Now the transformation has largely been successful and the initiatives are almost complete, the level of innovation seems to have stalled and the relationship has deteriorated. Somewhere in the fire-fighting, both BCC and SB have lost sight of the next ‘great common cause’ – the fact that the Council needs to further reduce the cost of ICT service delivery by £20m per annum. This will require some significant ‘outside the box’ thinking about how to achieve from both BCC and SB.”

Below are verbatim extracts from the Best Practice Group’s report which highlight some of the lessons arising from of the joint venture so far. The sub-headings (in italics) are mine.

Extracts from Best Practice Group’s report:

Service Birmingham charges a fee even when the council implements services outside the joint venture – poor value and reputedly poor practice?

“SB has an on-going contractual duty to ensure it provides independently benchmarked best value in the services it delivers to BCC [Birmingham City Council]. As part of these arrangements, BCC can request specific third party services (outside SB’s own delivery capability) with SB applying a fee for ‘contract management’.

“However, these situations vary considerably, raising the question of how to maximise value. The contract management fee would be considered high value when BCC gives SB a service outcome it wants to achieve, and SB researches the market, provides options and recommendations to BCC, sources the best value vendor, and ensures the solution is implemented and the business outcomes achieved.

“In other situations, BCC already knows the outcome to be achieved, how to achieve it and who the best value vendor is, and can implement the solution itself. However, the same contract management percentage still applies to these cases. This causes resentment for the service area involved because they cannot see how SB has added to the process, and in real terms, is perceived by BCC as very poor value. Although the sums involved are minimal compared with the relationship’s overall cost, it is highly visible as an area of poor value and reputedly bad practice, and needs to be realigned.”

Service Birmingham needs to make a significant return for its shareholders

“Given the relationship challenges between BCC and SB, there are a couple of fundamental points to address, namely that: (a) certain individuals within the Council need to understand that SB is not a social enterprise, a public sector mutual, or a charity, and needs to make a significant return on its capital for its shareholders, and (b) SB needs to understand that the Council is in a significantly deteriorating financial position due to Government cutbacks.”

SB drops its prices when challenged

“There have been statements made by a number of the officers in the Council that SB drops its prices when challenged, especially when the Council has investigated alternative industry offerings. SB have suggested that it is only when the challenge arises that initial data is clarified and therefore, more focused pricing can be provided.”

A hardened commercial stance in some circumstances?

“… these obvious and immediate savings are now being met with a hardened commercial stance for anything that falls outside of the core deliverables by SB.”

The cloud imposes hidden costs for SB

“Regardless of whether a scale of mark-up can be achieved, one issue that is clear from the interviews undertaken is that SB/BCC needs to educate the BCC service areas at all levels around what the contract management mark-up actually buys for the Council from SB. At present, for example, there is a lack of understanding within BCC service areas that having ‘cloud’ delivered solutions within the overall portfolio does still incur hidden costs for SB in supporting the overall infrastructure and managing the intermediate fault–reporting service.”

Staff survey on SB – mixed results

“With regards to the survey, 63% stated that they talk ‘positively’ about SB to their colleagues. Slightly less, 59%, believe SB understands the requirements and support needed to deliver the Council’s services. However, when asked if they would naturally think to contact SB for help and advice in situations where they were thinking about undertaking new ICT related work, only 33% of the Council respondents said that they would…

“When asked the direct question of how satisfied they were overall with the service delivered by SB, only 15% of the respondents felt that the service was less than satisfactory. However, only 10% believed that it was excellent with 39% rating it as satisfactory and 36% rating the service received as good.”

Project concerns

“There is a feeling which was voiced by several interviewees from the Council that project implementation often runs behind schedule and ultimately it is the ‘loudest project to shout’ which will then have the scarce resources allocated to it at the cost of other projects.”

Lack of commercial trust

“…there are elements of the KPI [key performance indicator] reporting received from SB that BCC need clarity on . This, coupled with the general lack of commercial trust between the parties and the fact that BCC have shown that SB have reported some data incorrectly (after discussion around interpretation), means that the KPIs are not fully aligned to the business outcomes BCC now needs to achieve in the current financial climate.”

Seeds of a possible legal dispute in future years between the two sides?

“One point that should be highlighted is that we believe there is a misalignment between both parties view of what partnership working actually entails. From the perspective of some service areas within BCC, they view certain individuals within SB as uncooperative. In a similar vein, there are certain individuals within SB who view specific BCC staff also as uncooperative. It should be noted that these individuals within both BCC and SB are in the minority.

“However, such un-cooperation is manifesting itself into a perception of a lack of commercial trust in both camps. Some BCC individuals are not really taking into account, or understanding, that SB is a commercial organisation that has a majority shareholding by a publically listed company. Its commercial shareholders need to see financial returns from SB that increase annually…

“In the early stages, the working relationship was put firmly on the rails by having a ‘great common cause’. The transformation requirements of BCC were so fundamental, it seems many differences of opinion were set aside and both parties worked very hard to overcome the obstacles in ensuring the transformation was successful. Largely, that was achieved. Now that the original transformation process has almost all been completed, the parties working relationship seems to have deteriorated in certain instances. This pattern of behaviour is normal in most strategic vendor relationships.”

SB more expensive than the average in certain areas?

“SB appear to be significantly more expensive than average in the areas of voice, data and converged service provision (KPI-17). The most significant of the three costs provided is the provision of Data services where SB are the worst value of all of the respondents in the SOCITM survey with a cost of £227 per data outlet (capital + support) compared to a median of £118. At the time of writing this report, no clarification had been provided as to the reasons for the significant difference between the SB provided cost and the survey median. When KPI-17 is reviewed as a cost per user, SB fairs much better across the service types. It has a cost of £321 per user compared to a median of £290 per user. However if you consider that this £31 per user per year, it actually represents over £600k per annum above average.”

Council concerns over SAP work going abroad

“Different parties within BCC perceived that in the interest of cost savings, SB was passing some work on SAP projects to an off-shore organisation, rather than using the UK workforce. It should be noted that the contract allows for the off-shoring of SAP work, but only where such work does not adversely impact jobs in the UK.

“A high level review of the SAP project work has identified that SAP work has only been off-shored when the UK workforce does not have the required expertise. In addition, we requested specific evidence from individuals to support their view that work was being off-shored that could have been undertaken by the UK workforce, but this could not be provided.”

The Council was paying for unused phone lines

“… Ultimately, the Council kept receiving invoices from the line provider for what were essentially unused telephone lines. The process ceased promptly after BCC and SB addressed the escalation of the issue.”

Stagnating innovation could widen the divide between the two sides

“It is clear that both parties will continue to feel significant frustration until they can resolve how to share the innovation process, provide resources to help the generation of sound business cases and provide formalised and comprehensive feedback to allow for the implementation of suggestions. These suggestions need to become acceptable to the Council as realistic deliverable solutions. If this does not happen, then innovation between the partners will continue to stagnate, driving a widening divide between the organisations.”

KPIs not always useful?

In the case of the BCC and SB agreement, despite an abundance of KPIs being in place, the Council perceives the contract could be better aligned in order to maximise the behaviours from SB that it needs.


The report gives the impression that those running the joint venture must overcome the many problems because the contract still has nine years left to run. Both sides, it seems, are locked into the relationship. In some areas it works. In others it doesn’t.

Capita, clearly, has been trying hard to make the relationship work. Some within the council have too. Some are not so enthusiastic and have been “making noise” according to the report’s authors. Do those making a noise have a point, or are they simply making trouble against the joint venture? The report suggests removing those making a noise. But will that remove some of those who are providing an independent challenge?

So far the relationship has been largely successful; and the survey of staff is generally positive. But there are signs of serious trouble. Innovation is stagnating, the council’s finances are deteriorating and Capita needs to make a profit from the venture. Are these fundamental incompatibilities? Will the relationship really last another nine years, especially if there is more political change within the council?

High-Level Review of Service Birmingham

Success in outsourcing needs political stability says councillors’ panel

By Tony Collins

A group of councillors has found, after investigating several large local authority outsourcing contracts, that political stability may be a critical factor in successful deals.

Cornwall Council’s “Support Services Single Issue Panel” investigated outsourcing deals that involved Birmingham City Council (Capita), Liverpool City Council (BT),  Taunton Deane Borough Council (IBM), Suffolk County Council (BT) and South Tyneside Council (BT).

The panel is not,  in principle, against outsourcing. It found that,

“Information from other authorities has highlighted the importance of political stability for a project which will extend for many years. This has been the single most important lesson that they have learnt.”

In those councils that have an inherently stable majority of one particular
party, outsourcing has not necessarily been a problem. “Likewise it has not been an issue for those councils who have achieved a cross-party consensus, even where there has been a change of administration,” says Cornwall’s panel of councillors. But …

“For those councils who do not have a cross-party approach the process of going into a strategic partnership has caused significant problems; in some  cases a polarised membership which has also impacted on their staff…”

The finding indicates that the risks of a large-scale failure of outsourcing contracts at Cornwall and Barnet councils – where political dissent has been marked – could be greater than its officials realise.

Cornwall may outsource a range of services, including IT, to BT in a contract that is likely to be worth at least £200m, and possibly hundreds of millions of pounds more,  over 10 years.

Barnet has chosen Capita as its preferred outsourcing supplier as part of its “One Barnet” transformation programme. The plan includes outsourcing IT.

A need for cross-party support

The findings of Cornwall’s Single Issue Panel also suggest that the initial major decision to outsource may need a cross-party consensus to succeed..

“What has proved both corrosive and destructive is where a major decision has been made without the support of a substantial majority of members,” says Cornwall’s panel.

Cornwall Council is putting the major decision of its outsourcing deal with BT to the full council. A yes or no decision is expected in December.

But Barnet is going ahead with its major decision to award a large outsourcing contract to Capita without a vote of the full council, although dissent over the plans are widespread. An inner circle of councillors, the “Cabinet”, is expected to approve a deal with Capita 0n 6 December.

This is part of what Cornwall’s panel says on the importance of political stability to successful outsourcing deals:

“Throughout the investigatory work of the Panel the importance of political leadership has been consistently stressed.

“It has been regarded by most authorities as the single biggest activity to get right and failure of this function will at best lead to problems and at worst to failure of the partnership.

“The form of the leadership is in itself not important and both cross-party support and a stable base from one political party have both been effective…


BT in Cornwall and Capita in Barnet have made promises of large savings which, understandably, makes some councillors and officers want to sign large, long-term outsourcing deals.

If suppliers provide money upfront for transformation projects this eases, or even releases, the burden on councillors and officers to make big cuts.

But how will BT at Cornwall and Capita at Barnet pay for savings, and for new investment in changes, if they fail to attract new business?

This was among the findings of Cornwall’s investigating panel of councillors:

“Members of the SIP [Single Issue Panel] have supported the investigation of ways in which jobs in Cornwall Council could be retained by trading shared services.

“All other authorities that have started with a similar ambition have failed to deliver that aspiration. In one case the business model was substantially reliant on trading and growth and has been in place since 2006.

“No significant trading has taken place and this is a similar story in all other authorities that the SIP has been in contact with.”

This finding shows how the promises of suppliers to attract new business can prove over-optimistic; but at least all of Cornwall’s councillors will have a chance to vote on a deal. Barnet is not giving its full council the same opportunity.

If Barnet’s officers and ruling members read Cornwall’s Single Issue Panel report they will be aware of evidence that it can be corrosive and destructive for a council to make a major decision without the support of a substantial majority of members.

If Barnet’s inner circle then goes ahead with making a major decision in the face of widespread and strong dissent among some staff and councillors, could its decision amount of maladministration if the subsequent deal turns sour?

One concern is that the suppliers may put up money in advance and charge for this – with interest – in the latter part of the contract, as in discredited PFI deals.

Today’s councillors and officers would have money for investment in the early stages of the contract. But they may leave future generations of councillors and officers with a legacy of large payments. The full facts should be known before any deal is signed.

Another concern is that the suppliers may rely on major legislative and organisational change – both of which are inevitable – to provide much of their profit.

If a future council does not want to pay the suppliers’ invoices for changes a dispute may arise, for which the suppliers will be much better prepared than the councils.

A further concern is that the savings promised by suppliers may be smaller than the savings the councils could make on their own,  with suppliers acting as consultants, for the costs of technology fall annually – as do some cloud services as competition increases. Again the facts should be known before any long-term deal with a single supplier signed.

It may also be important for officers at Cornwall and Barnet to be aware that Suffolk County Council has decided after its outsourcing deal with BT that it is better to outsource to multiple “expert” suppliers than a single one.

In Barnet the public needs to be able to hold those responsible for a major decision to account, if all goes wrong. The problem is that the individuals on any minority group that is responsible for a outsourcing decision today are unlikely to be in post when any dispute arises.


Councillor Andrew Wallis – The Single Issue Panel Releases its Third Report on the Support Services Proposals

Capita preferred bidder at Barnet

The Barnet Eye

Shared services disaster

Cornwall Council votes for more time to consider outsourcing plans

By Tony Collins

Councillors in Cornwall voted unanimously today (23 October 2012) for a joint venture with BT to be considered more carefully, and for other options to be investigated, without any pressure to finalise a deal by the end of next month, which was the original intention.

The motion passed by the council was that the “current proposals for shared services shall not progress to the ‘invitation to submit final tenders’ stage until they have been debated and unless approved by a meeting of full council”.

The motion called on the Chief Executive [Kevin Lavery] to “investigate fully and as a matter of urgency all reasonable methods of delivering council services covered by the proposals for the strategic partnership which addresses the need to make efficiency savings and generate income”.

Councillors expect Lavery to investigate a “thin” joint venture in which the council and a partner share ownership of a new company.  There would be no early, large scale transfer of Cornwall Council staff into the company.  Cornwall Council would continue to receive its shared services internally. As the joint venture company won new work  – if it did – staff would transfer into it.

Councillors also want Lavery to investigate an in-house option and forming a mutual, which would win the support of central government.

BT, meanwhile, has said it will keep its offer to the council open until the end of its financial year in March.  Jim Currie, Cornwall’s leader, has taken over responsibility for leading the shared services discussions. He says he wants more and better information on the proposals. Most of the information has so far come from BT which has “guaranteed” to save the council money, increase investment, transform services and add at least 500 jobs. In BT’s small print it points out that its commitments to the council are “draft” or, at this stage, “non-binding”.

At the full council meeting this morning one councillor called for an investigation into whether proceeding with one supplier BT – CSC having withdrawn from the bidding in part because of a “confused” political situation in Cornwall – would meet EC tendering rules.

Councillors have set no deadline on when they will come to a decision on the BT proposals or on other options.

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.

Cornwall council’s deputy leader resigns over “inevitable” outsourcing plans

By Tony Collins

Jim Currie, the Conservative deputy leader of Conservative-controlled Cornwall County Council, has resigned in objection to the authority’s outsourcing plans.

“It’s an inevitability at this stage. I have done everything I can to try to influence the process and exhausted that,” he said in an email to the County Council’s leader Alec Robertson.

“The sensible thing is to step back if you’re out of step with the rest of the Cabinet.”

Parts of Currie’s email were published by

Some in the media suggest that Cornwall may make a u-turn over its plan to outsource support services to either BT or CSC. But Currie’s email suggests the opposite. He told Robertson “I know you will never let go.”

A small group of Cabinet councillors had expected to take the final decision to sign a deal with BT or CSC in November – a deal worth hundreds of millions of pounds – but they must now put the decision to a vote of the full council, which is expected to happen later this month.

The full council will be able to vote on the deal because independent councillor Andrew Wallis organised a petition which has collected 5,800 signatures. Any petition that collects a minimum of 5,000 signatures must go to the full council for debate and a vote.

The petition said: “We the undersigned call on Cornwall Council to reverse its decision to proceed with a Strategic Partnership for Shared Services until such time the majority of the elected members of Cornwall Council have voted to support the proposals.”

The petition is expected to be debated at a full council meeting on 23 October. Robertson has said he will abide by the decision of the full vote.

Extracts from Currie’s email to Robertson:

“I feel I have pushed the cause of retaining council control over the joint ventures as far as I can with the Cabinet.

“The financial risks involved with the rush into the new joint venture proposals are unacceptable. The JV [joint venture] is basically too large to control.

“We have wasted £42m+ on the unitary [authority], £42m+ on the incinerator and we are now proposing to risk a great deal more on the joint venture.

“I welcome your somewhat ambiguous offer to respect full council decisions on the 23rd October but I know you will never let go.

“I could not leave local government with billions of pounds of Cornish taxpayers’ money at risk and on my conscience… Alec, this matter has never been personal.”

Currie told Thisiscornwall  “Honestly, I have done everything I can do. I have been out on a limb for a very long time and will just have to let the thing take its course and it’s down to the membership and that’s what the council is supposed to be about.

“It’s absolutely the courage of my convictions and nothing else. The amazing thing is how many other people on the council think the same way across all parties. It’s tremendously non-political.”

Jeremy Rowe, leader of Cornwall’s Liberal Democrat group, told the BBC,

“We’re in a situation where Cornwall Council is becoming a laughing stock. There’s an administration there now which has this bunker mentality. It’s completely out of touch.”


Will the inner circle of pro-outsourcing Cabinet members win a vote of the full council on 23 October, which would enable them to go ahead and sign a deal with BT or CSC?

The pro-outsourcing group may hope that most Conservative councillors and a few from the other groups will vote for a deal, perhaps knowing or caring little about it.

When the outsourcing was last debated by the full council, in September, many of Cornwall’s 123 councillors were either away or abstained. A majority of those who were there voted against the deal – but the Cabinet has ignored that vote.

The next time the deal is debated the pro-outsourcing Cabinet councillors may win the vote if most councillors turn up and vote to support the Cabinet whether or not they know much of the proposals.

The council comprises 47 Conservative councillors, 37 liberal democrats, 31 independents, six Mebyon Kernow, one Labour and one vacant seat.

Campaign4Change has argued that the pro-outsourcing Cabinet has, in defending the deal, quoted the arguments of the bidders, which shows signs of naivity.

Currie is right to say that the deal, as  proposed, is extraordinarily risky – and he is right to resign, if only to make a point to those councillors who are undecided on whether the council should outsource.

A mega-outsourcing plan beset by naive fanaticism?

Council deputy leader resigns over £300m outsourcing deal

Cornwall Council – our [shared services] journey

IBM sues its council “partner”

By Tony Collins

Earlier this week we reported IBM’s disclosure that it is in dispute with Somerset County Council, its lead partner on a joint venture Southwest One.

In  its annual statement on Southwest One, a joint venture owned by IBM in which Somerset County Council is the lead partner, the company said that a dispute with its partners had gone to mediation which had failed.

Now it turns out that the dispute has escalated: IBM, in the form of Southwest One, is suing Somerset County Council according to BBC online.

On its website Southwest One says how “collaboration and cooperation can help to deliver procurement savings”.  But it is largely over the level of procurement savings that Southwest One is going to court.

Southwest One’s statement

Southwest One said it had taken court action because an agreement could not be made with Somerset Country Council.

“Southwest One complies with its contractual obligations, providing a robust service to all partners which includes the identification of substantial procurement savings.

“Throughout the course of the contract, Southwest One has secured procurement savings that amount to £22 million which have been approved by all partners, with contracts in place to deliver a further £71 million of savings.

“Southwest One has also successfully achieved external recognition from the Cabinet Office for Customer Service Excellence and operates an award-winning Customer Contact Centre.”

Somerset’s statement

Somerset County Council said

“We are in disagreement with Southwest One about the quality of the procurement service and what payments Southwest One is entitled to as a result of savings made by getting better deals through the joint venture.

“As set out in the terms of the contract, we had hoped we would be able to settle this issue through mediation and negotiation.

“It is now apparent that this will not be possible and it is disappointing that we are in the position of going to court.

“It is paramount that we look after the best interests of tax payers and take action when standards of performance and quality are not being met.

“We will therefore robustly defend our position and make counter-claims where we believe we have suffered losses.

“Somerset County Council will not be commenting any further on this issue at this stage.”

Thank you to Dave Orr for drawing my attention to IBM’s legal action.


As procurement expert Peter Smith asks: what is a procurement saving? Amid a complexity of transactions the phrase “procurement saving” can mean almost anything.

Southwest One was supposed to be a partnership between IBM and three public authorities: Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council and Avon and Somerset Police.

Now the primary beneficiaries will be lawyers … And so we plough along, as the fly said to the ox.


Southwest One sues Somerset County Council

Procurement savings disputes are not unusual

IBM in dispute with partners on £585m contract

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 

IBM won bid without lowest-price – council gives detail under FOI

By Tony Collins

Excessive secrecy has characterised a deal between IBM and Somerset County Council which was signed in 2007.

Indeed I once went to the council’s offices in Taunton, on behalf of Computer Weekly, for a pre-arranged meeting to ask questions about the IBM contract. A council lawyer refused to answer most of my questions because I did not live locally.

Now (five years later) Somerset’s Corporate Information Governance Officer Peter Grogan at County Hall, Taunton, has shown that the council can be surprisingly open.

He has overturned a refusal of the council to give the bid prices. Suppliers sometimes complain that the public sector awards contracts to the lowest-price bidder. But …

Supplier / Bid Total cost over 10 years
BT Standard bid £220.552M
BT Variant Bid £248.055M
Capita Standard Bid £256.671M
Capita Variant Bid £267.687M
IBM Standard Bid £253.820M
IBM Variant Bid £253.820M

The FOI request was made by former council employee Dave Orr who has, more than anyone, sought to hold Somerset and IBM to account for what has turned out to be a questionable deal.

Under the FOI Act, Orr asked Somerset County Council for the bid totals. It refused saying the suppliers had given the information  in confidence. Orr appealed. In granting the appeal Grogan said:

“I would also consider that the passage of time has a significant impact here as the figures included under the exemption are now some 5 years old and their commercial sensitivity is somewhat eroded.

“Whilst, at the time those companies tendering for the contract would justifiably expect the information to be confidential and that they could rely upon confidentiality clauses, I am not able to support the non-disclosure due the fact that the FOI Act creates a significant argument for disclosure that outweighs the confidentiality agreement once the tender exercise is complete and a reasonable amount of time has passed.

“I therefore do not consider this exemption [section 41] to be engaged. Please find the information you requested below…”

[In my FOI experience – making requests to central government departments – the internal review process has always proved pointless. So all credit to Peter Grogan for not taking the easy route, in this case at least.]

MP Ian Liddell-Grainger ‘s website on the “Southwest One” IBM deal.

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

Council accepts IBM deal as failing.

Was Audit Commission Somerset and IBM’s unofficial PR agents?