Somerset council review criticises Southwest One

Report says joint venture with IBM 'could do better'

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Somerset county council has gone public with criticisms of its Southwest One joint venture with IBM, following a review that led to the conclusion that it "could do better".

Among the criticisms in a report (6-page PDF/52.2KB) on the shared service is that some savings targets were not met; there had been problems with the introduction of a new SAP software system; and that management and training weaknesses led to staff being transferred to Southwest One while still unclear of "where allegiance lies".

It also contained positive points, such as praise for the successful operation of the customer contact centre, improved spending controls and the achievement of some of the savings targets.

The report said a renegotiation of the contract has been going on for several months following the completion of the review in June of last year.

Southwest One is delivering a number of services for the county, Taunton Deane district council and Avon and Somerset police. It was the subject of sustained criticism from a local MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, and was subjected to review after the Conservatives took control of the county council from the Liberal Democrats in May 2009.

Council leader Ken Maddock said: "This review was commissioned to give me detailed background into the performance and how the Southwest One contract was set up.

"This review has now served its purpose and will be published on the council's website so that residents can act as 'armchair auditors'. I hope our residents will be able to use it to build on their own knowledge and understanding of this complex partnership and contract."

In response, Southwest One released a statement saying: "In its mission to provide better value for money for council taxpayers and improve local residents' access to services, Southwest One has implemented major changes to the way the partner authorities buy their goods and services.

"Southwest One has so far realised £12m of procurement savings for the three partner authorities, with projects underway that will deliver an additional £60m. A total pipeline of £165m savings opportunities have already been identified against a target of approximately £200m over the lifetime of the contract."

The county council said the current level of savings stands at £6m, with a further £60m in line to be delivered, ahead of an eventual target of in excess of £150m over the next seven years.

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

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