UNISON calls for Somerset County Council to learn lessons from Southwest One joint venture

UNISON calls for Somerset County Council to learn the expensive lessons of Southwest One joint venture

UNISON has called on Somerset County Council to learn the lessons of the failure of the controversial Southwest One outsourcing joint venture as it today announced the early ending of the contract.

UNISON opposed the joint venture with IBM, which in 2007 outsourced large areas of the council’s administrative and support services, arguing then that the procurement process was flawed and that predicted savings were over optimistic and unlikely to be realised. Those savings were predicted to be £180 million over 10 years, and while no statement has been made by the council on what savings have been made they are expected to be only a fraction of this amount.

This is in part because Southwest One proved to be inflexible to changing circumstances, with reduced government funding to local government since 2010 compromising its ability to find the savings. This led to a £25 million claim by Southwest One against Somerset County Council, which was settled in 2013 with the council paying £5.9m to settle the dispute.

In response to the announcement Belinda Burton, UNISON Somerset County Branch Secretary, said:

“This is a sad but predictable end to what was always an unrealistic joint venture, driven by the ambition of former senior council officers and councillors, and a naïve belief that a partnership with a multi-national company of the scale of IBM could only be a benefit to Somerset.

“Unfortunately it is the public of Somerset who have borne the burden of its failure. It has been difficult enough since 2010 to continue to provide adequate services due to substantial cuts to national government funding to Somerset, and the current Conservative administration’s decision to freeze council tax, but Somerset County Council has also been grappling with the messy and expensive quagmire that is Southwest One.

“The failure of this joint venture highlights yet again the inflexibility to changing circumstances inherent in these kinds of grand, all-encompassing outsourcing arrangements. This has been demonstrated time and again across the UK, such as the similar joint venture between BT and Liverpool City Council which ended last year.   

“Our priority is the staff members that were seconded to Southwest One and the services that they deliver. We are concerned for our members’ job security and we will be working in partnership with SCC on behalf of our members to make sure all their concerns are addressed during this process.”

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