Southwest One – lessons learnt from the outsourcing programme

Regular readers will be VERY familiar with the Southwest One outsourcing contract which was let by Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane Council and Avon & Somerset Police in 2007.  It proved to be controversial in a number of respects and we covered it directly and through the work of Dave Orr, a local resident who did a great job of exposing the issues around contract delivery.

Anyway, Somerset County Council themselves have to their credit now issued a ‘lessons learnt’ report, "Lessons Learnt to inform future Commissioning from the experience of the South West One Contract". Well done to them and that step is something other public bodies should consider when they too have experienced problematical projects or contracts, we’d suggest.

It is however a fairly short, summary document – more of an executive summary rather than a detailed analysis of the issues. So to build on that, it is well worth reading an article published by Alan Watton of the Best Practice Group (BPG), a consulting firm that specialises in getting difficult outsourcing contracts (often in the public sector) back on track. Watton looks at the Somerset report, but then expands on the findings and adds his own and the firm’s experience to the mix, to good effect. there are also useful cross references to other BPG research and reference material, which is of a high quality in our experience).

It is a very readable, useful and insightful piece, and recommended to anyone involved in outsourcing indeed contract management generally.  Here is just the first of his nine points. The first part in italics is from the Somerset report, the rest is the BRG material. And yes, I too was amazed that the contract ran to 3,000 pages! How can anyone possibly ‘manage’ that?

1. Contract complications

“One of the most significant lessons learnt is not to make contracts overly complicated. Both the provider and the Council would agree that the contract is incredibly complicated. A contract with over 3,000 pages was drawn up back in 2007 which was considered necessary at the time given the range of services and the partnership and contractual arrangements created.”

"Yes, you read that correctly. A 3,000 page contract was created by the legal representatives, no doubt at great expense. A document of such a size will present clear challenges for the individuals on the ground, from both public and private sector partners trying to positively manage such a wide breadth of service delivery across multiple organisational stakeholders.

While it is important to offer clarity and consider every eventuality, it is also essential that the legal documents that bind partners together are understood by all involved, are as concise as possible and focus on agreed business outcomes. Unnecessarily complicated paperwork will lead to misunderstandings, confusion, conflict and inefficiency, none of which are conducive to a good working relationship. The other point to note is the importance of the contract process map which lets everyone know what they should be doing and when, to achieve those agreed business outcomes. This is the guide all can refer to, in order that there is a continual drive for maximum value over the lifespan of the partnership". (Alan Watton, BPG)

(Read the whole article here).

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Voices (2)

  1. Phoenix:

    Some (admittedly not terribly scientific) research I carried out for an MBA dissertation on contract management found that, in my sample, there was an almost perfect inverse correlation between the number of pages in the contract and the view of its success mid-term shared by both client and contractor.

  2. Dave Orr:

    Tony Collins (respected IT journalist) covered the Lessons Learned report for SW1 as well:

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