As councillors this week debated the pros and cons of a deal to transfer Cornwall Council services to a new partnership between the authority and a private firm, Richard Whitehouse looks at a similar project which attracted strong criticism and cost one council millions.
CORNWALL Council’s shared services project has been held up by those at the top of County Hall as a key way to save money and improve services but critics have pointed to similar partnerships which have been seen to “fail”.
Southwest One – a multimillion-pound partnership between computer giant IBM, Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council and Avon and Somerset Police, like Cornwall’s plan, was mainly to provide “back office” services such as IT systems, payroll and purchasing. When launched in 2007, it was hailed as the future of public services by providing a one stop shop for back office functions for several organisations.
However in March Somerset County Council decided to bring several of the services back in-house due to concerns about the way Southwest One was managed and the venture’s recorded annual losses of £31.5 million, leading to a £10 million bailout loan from IBM.
Several finance and HR services were taken back to the county council along with 160 staff who had been seconded to Southwest One.
Somerset County Council leader at the time Ken Maddock attacked the project as “failing”.
Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, told the West Briton: “Everything depends on the skill of the local government team in negotiating a favourable deal. “IBM ran rings round the county council; it has cost the taxpayers millions and still hasn’t been sorted out.”
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