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After staring over the precipice once before, Kent County Council considers £500m in outsourcing again

Promise of 'efficiencies' may be appealing to authority facing £100m COVID black hole

Kent County Council is inviting IT services companies and BPO specialists to bid for places on a £500m framework agreement set to offer a range of outsourcing services to the English public authority.

In a contract notice published this week, the council put them market on notice to bid to be part of the cool half-billion deal, in the hope suppliers can "improve efficiency, provide an agile and reliable solution that will transform and meet [the council's] business objectives."

The Framework Agreement for Managed Services is set to see "the outsourcing [of] day-to-day management responsibilities and functions as a strategic method for transforming and improving business processes, through efficiencies, effectiveness and cutting operating costs," the notice said.

Categories listed on the official document include office and computing machinery, software package and information systems, and IT services such as consulting, software development, and support. It also lists business services such as law, marketing, consulting, recruitment, printing and security as well as postal and telecommunications services.

Kent County Council's annual spending is around £1.7bn, excluding schools, and is currently staring into a £100m COVID-shaped black hole in its finances.

Dealing with the results of the pandemic means the council could face a massive deficit, finance chiefs have warned, despite the authority getting £346m in emergency funding to help deal with the virus impact.

So, the desire for finding the elusive "efficiencies" through the magic of outsourcing might be tempting to some.

In-house on the outs?

Kent has been here before. In 2015, it abandoned plans to outsource hundreds of back-office jobs and ended its talks with prospective suppliers. It had been in talks to secure outsourcing deals in management of its finance, personnel and ICT departments in an effort to save millions of pounds.

Staff were told the plan has been dropped and the departments affected would stay in house, according to local news reports.

With £500m on the table, it looks like they might, once again, be facing the same prospects.

Kent County Council currently runs a framework for software worth up to £500m. Companies on the deal include Bytes Software Services, Capita Business Services, CDW, Civica, Insight Direct, Phoenix Software, Softcat, Software Box, SoftwareONE, and Trustmarque Solutions. It was signed in 2020 and was set to last four years.

In 2005, IBM won a five-year, £10m deal to supply IT infrastructure and services to Kent County Council as part of the council's efforts to make its services more directly accessible for its residents. ®

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