More Local Councils seek the Outsourcing / Partnership Holy Grail

Local authorities seem to be hurtling towards ill-judged outsourcing  in a desperate attempt to balance the books.

I wonder whether some senior executives see this as a bit of a no-lose situation? If they end up working for BT, Serco or whoever, they’ll probably make more money than they do as public servants. If they don’t transfer, they’ll get generous pay-offs. (On a different but connected note, interesting to see that Katherine Kerswell has become Director General for Civil Service Reform  in the Cabinet Office. She picked up a £420,000 pay off last year when, as Chief Executive for Kent County Council, she was declared surplus to requirements by Paul Carter, the Council leader).

Councillors themselves – well, how many of them have run a procurement process or managed a contract worth several hundred million pounds? They seem to be easily seduced by fine words from the supply side. At heart, I suspect it is simply that they have no idea themselves how to reduce costs by the 20%+ they need, so they respond enthusiastically to those who claim that they do have the answer.

The latest example is Cornwall County Council, where in a triumph for democracy, the “Cabinet” of a dozen councillors has decided to go ahead with a major outsourcing process, despite the full council body voting 46 – 29 against it! I do find that extraordinary. Just think if that had happened in the Middle East, or China – the UK media would be shaking their heads about sham democracy and oligarchs. But it happens in Cornwall, and no-one seems to care too much.

So they’re proceeding with an outsource, with BT and CSC as the two shortlisted firms. (I’ll give you a strong prediction as to who is going to win that fight...)  But yet again, the worrying thing is that procurement is lumped into the list of requirements as an apparent afterthought, as we’ve seen in North Tyneside and elsewhere. This fundamentally looks like an IT outsource, but procurement and commissioning gets thrown into the pot.

And if you outsource procurement, who is going to manage CSC / BT?

There’s also the classic Southwest One / London Metropolitan University fallacy – that if we set up some “public / private partnership”, as this initiative is described, then lots of other public bodies will come on board and pay loads of money to join our venture, making huge profits for the original partners, including Cornwall Council.


No-one will join your venture, because even if you do eventually get it right, it will take you years to establish your own outsourcing as a success. No-one will join until that is very evident. Other public bodies will follow their own path in the meantime. And there’s every chance your venture will fail – better than evens, I would say, looking at the track record so far in local government.

And I do hope that the people of Cornwall identify those Cabinet members who seem to think democracy doesn’t apply to them, and “throw the scoundrels out” at the next election (Google has failed me as to the source of that quote, incidentally).  Never mind Syria, let's help bring democracy to Falmouth.

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Voices (7)

  1. Dan2:

    BT. Based on their track record at Liverpool Direct, Lancashire (One Connect), Edinburgh etc etc?

  2. Graham Walker:

    “So they’re proceeding with an outsource, with BT and CSC as the two shortlisted firms. (I’ll give you a strong prediction as to who is going to win that fight…)”
    Would you care to elaborate? The CE here in Cornwall is still saying it is too close to call….as he would.

    1. Peter Smith:

      One firm has much more of a track record of working with local authorities – of course, that includes some not-so-good experiences. Certain past experiences might also haunt the other firm of course… although they’ve been making things better recently in that field, which may mean its a closer race than I thought. Of course I can’t be more direct or say who I think because we’re so influential, our view might bias the tender evaluators marking process….!!

  3. Dan2:

    “Those who don’t learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them”. – Good quote there…

    Also see: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” from Albert Einstein.

  4. Roger Conway:

    “Those who don’t learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them”.

    What is happening to our local government?

    A small clique of party loyalist bounce through a disastrous plan in Cornwall that is identical to what has already occurred in Somerset.

    There is no morality in public office any more, grubby political ambition and probably worse, takes centre stage at the expense of the tax payer.

    Intellectually challenged Councillors think they can hold their own with slick legalistic focussed American style multinationals – they can’t.

    Somerset has been well and truly ‘turned over’ by such an arrangement and Cornwall is meekly following.

    If the Cornish ever needed another Trelawny, it’s now.

  5. Dave Orr:

    Back to the Future? Cornwall is re-running in 2012 the IBM/SW1 debacle with the same “stupid sourcing” (TM) as Somerset did 5 years ago in 2007. (start at botttom of Page 2)

    Cornwall 2012: “The Leader thanked the Chairman of the Single Issue Panel for Support Services for the Panel’s extensive work & expressed the opinion that it was the most thorough process of scrutiny undertaken by a Panel during the life of this Council”.

    Somerset 2008: “The Sub-Committee then heard from Mike Allen of the Audit Commission who began by stating that Southwest One had been one of the most scrutinised processes that he had witnessed & it was to the Council’s credit that it had opened itself up to such a level of inspection. Members heard the Council commended for the value for money secured with the partnership, & also the robustness of the client arrangements that had the necessary funding in place”.

    Headlines for IBM/SW1 joint venture 5 years in are:

    a) Promised £200m of procurement savings are less than 5% of the Somerset target & “assured savings” remains a mystery expression!

    b) Net Somerset County Council employment in SW1 is 25% lower – having less staff and replacing some leavers with lower paid staff is how the contractor makes their profit – duuh!

    c) The fixed contract made in 2007 with IBM for SW1 cannot be flexed & is being blamed for an inability to re-model remaining services for austerity (future flexibility being the reason given for forming SW1 in first place!):

    c) The expensive £30m IT system SAP is still not right & was constructed in IBM India; an FOI shows that the promised skilling of Somerset IT staff has been basic, with key certificated skills & 2nd/3rd line support offshored to India (IBM GSI Bangalore).

    d) None of the £33m more expensive IBM Variant Bid deliverables promised for the stimulation of Somerset’s economy have arrived.

    e) Charges by IBM/SW1 to Somerset have risen during cuts & are first call on Somerset budget (like PFI)!

    f) IBM/SW1 is taking it’s founding partner Somerset County Council to court!!

    Read about the disastrous IBM/SW1 5th anniversary headlines in a Somerset MP’s colourful blog entry entitled “Wednesday September 19th 2012”:

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