Somerset's costly software

August 25, 2011 1:34 PM

Efforts to make Somerset County Council (SCC) more efficient and save taxpayers’ money backfired when it was revealed by the BBC that their automated computer programme had sent out duplicate payments totalling £4.6 million.

IT firm Southwest One was supposed to improve payments made to council suppliers, but when the software system delayed payments, staff sent out cheques so suppliers didn’t have to wait, but the computer system still made the original payments, resulting in over 2,000 bills being paid twice. The largest recipient was the Somerset bus company First Group, which received £800,000 of taxpayers’ money it shouldn’t have. It has since repaid the sum, but the council is still owed £169,000 and will undertake legal action to reclaim it—at our expense.

‘Somerset County Council has always had an excellent reputation with making payments,’ said a spokesman for their Audit committee, ‘and their finance department and our reputation suffered quite significantly because of the problems of the introduction of this particular system.’

Southwest One is a joint venture set up in 2007 between Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, Avon and Somerset Police, and computer giant IBM, which owns 75% of it. The partnership was set to run for an initial period of 10 years, but two years into the contract, Somerset County Council was less than impressed. ‘Currently identified projected savings to SCC from procurement are approximately £45m, with approximately £2m having been delivered to date,’ says an SCC review report. ‘This is substantially below projections.’ Furthermore, ‘there appears to be insufficient clear plans for the identification and delivery of future procurement savings.’

Regarding the provision of service: ‘Both major and minor system problems and difficulties in implementation have been experienced which have often involved SCC staff in additional time and effort in working around these issues... As a result, there appears to have been substantial but unqualified additional direct and indirect costs by the County Council and others in resolving the various difficulties encountered.’

In conclusion, the SCC review panel said they would not ‘seek to negotiate a release from the contact, noting that this could invoke penalty clauses’ but they should pursue a ‘realignment of the contract that seeks to secure efficiencies… [and this] will need to be accompanied by a  robust analysis of associated costs and financial adjustments.’

In the meantime, undaunted by its latest cock-up, Southwest One trumpets on its website that ‘Our mission is to become the benchmark public sector shared service company for the UK.’ Oh dear…

Tim Newark, Bath and South-West TaxPayers’ AllianceEfforts to make Somerset County Council (SCC) more efficient and save taxpayers’ money backfired when it was revealed by the BBC that their automated computer programme had sent out duplicate payments totalling £4.6 million.

IT firm Southwest One was supposed to improve payments made to council suppliers, but when the software system delayed payments, staff sent out cheques so suppliers didn’t have to wait, but the computer system still made the original payments, resulting in over 2,000 bills being paid twice. The largest recipient was the Somerset bus company First Group, which received £800,000 of taxpayers’ money it shouldn’t have. It has since repaid the sum, but the council is still owed £169,000 and will undertake legal action to reclaim it—at our expense.

‘Somerset County Council has always had an excellent reputation with making payments,’ said a spokesman for their Audit committee, ‘and their finance department and our reputation suffered quite significantly because of the problems of the introduction of this particular system.’

Southwest One is a joint venture set up in 2007 between Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, Avon and Somerset Police, and computer giant IBM, which owns 75% of it. The partnership was set to run for an initial period of 10 years, but two years into the contract, Somerset County Council was less than impressed. ‘Currently identified projected savings to SCC from procurement are approximately £45m, with approximately £2m having been delivered to date,’ says an SCC review report. ‘This is substantially below projections.’ Furthermore, ‘there appears to be insufficient clear plans for the identification and delivery of future procurement savings.’

Regarding the provision of service: ‘Both major and minor system problems and difficulties in implementation have been experienced which have often involved SCC staff in additional time and effort in working around these issues... As a result, there appears to have been substantial but unqualified additional direct and indirect costs by the County Council and others in resolving the various difficulties encountered.’

In conclusion, the SCC review panel said they would not ‘seek to negotiate a release from the contact, noting that this could invoke penalty clauses’ but they should pursue a ‘realignment of the contract that seeks to secure efficiencies… [and this] will need to be accompanied by a  robust analysis of associated costs and financial adjustments.’

In the meantime, undaunted by its latest cock-up, Southwest One trumpets on its website that ‘Our mission is to become the benchmark public sector shared service company for the UK.’ Oh dear…

Tim Newark, Bath and South-West TaxPayers’ Alliance

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