Somerset extended contract with Southwest One whilst in dispute and without councillor or Board approval – astonishing!

Dave Orr has been asking more FOI questions about the decision of Somerset County Council to extend their contract with the Southwest One (SW1) joint venture in March, whilst the Council were already in dispute with SW1. You may remember that SW1 is now pursuing Somerset in the courts for “share of procurement savings” payments (tens of £M) they claim they are owed. That’s despite the fact that Somerset own 15% of SW1!

The answers Orr has got are frankly shocking – you can read them all here on the “What do they know” website.  It does appear – apparently – that the decision to extend was taken by the “Senior Responsible Officer”,  a mid level council executive, with no consultation with senior management or councillors, despite the fact that Somerset were already in dispute.  Here is a sample of the FOI correspondence:

Q.           Did the signing SRO for SCC seek any approval from a more Senior Officer? If so with whom & on what date please?

A.            At the time of providing SWo formal notification (19th March 2012) to extend the Framework  Agreement for a further period of two (2) years to the 19th March 2014, the Senior Responsible Officer has the authority under the Council’s Constitution.

Q.           Did the signing SRO for SCC discuss (in any medium - meeting, call, email etc) this matter with any elected Councillor (formally or informally)? If so with whom & on what date please?

A.            Under the requirements set out within SCC’s constitution, this was not necessary. Please refer to responses provided to earlier questions.

So, was the Chief Executive really not involved in this? I find it astonishing and deeply worrying that such an important decision could be taken in this manner, and it appears to be a huge failure of appropriate corporate governance. As we said before, this has also weakened Somerset’s position in the coming legal battle (if it comes to that). There’s something very wrong about this whole story.

And on the off chance any councillor in any other Council is reading this – I strongly suggest you review your policies / standing orders around what your executives do and don’t need to tell you before they make contractual decisions. This particular decision may turn out to be very expensive.

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First Voice

  1. Roger Conway:

    My incredulity with respect to SCC and its dealings with South West One was used up long ago.

    In fact, I am so sceptical about everything to do with this contract that I would have been very, very surprised if there had been any hint of professionalism in these procedures. Let alone any public accountability.

    Alas, the intellectual paucity amongst the elected members is such that few of them would notice, even if they had been consulted.

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