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Time for SCC to answer questions on BT contract

Suffolk County Council owes it to council tax payers to be more open about its negotiations to cut £3.5 million from its bill for the Customer Services Direct joint venture with BT and Mid Suffolk District council.

This is a big part the overall cuts to services including care to the elderly, bus services, libraries and much more.

The whole CSD project is mired in controversy and last June Michael Gower resigned as head of supplier relationship management at the County Council. He later told the Guardian that his repeated complaints that the scheme was over budget were ignored by SCC chief executive Andrea Hill.

In 2004 the original contract was to set up CSD as a joint venture,  with Suffolk paying BT £301m over ten years. BT was to invest £53 million in the council’s infrastructure. The costs, including inflation, have increased to £417m, said Gower.

The Guardian also reported, “… that Suffolk’s director of organisational change, Max Wide, is on secondment from BT where he is director of strategic development at BT Government. Wide was formerly director of organisational development at Barnet council, another Conservative authority with a radical privatisation programme.”

Ipswich Spy, a blog which seems to be close to some of the political animals in the town, returned to the issue yesterday with a post headed Who runs Suffolk County Concil? Andrea Hill. Jeremy Pembroke, or BT?

Jeremy Pembroke, is leader of SCC. Ipswichspy posed six questions to the council:

Ipswich Spy believes that the close relationship between BT and Andrea Hill needs careful and critical examination. Why has the relationship not been closely examined by the council’s Audit Committee for instance. They are meeting this week and the agenda would have been written whilst the relationship was under closest scrutiny. Yet they continue along a path set for them by the ruling trio of Chief Executive, BT and council leader Jeremy Pembroke. Are back bench councilors not concerned that BT appear to fill the roles of poacher, gamekeeper and owner of the farm at SCC?

I posted a comment pointing to a council document listing proposed spending cuts. It includes reducing the cost of the CSD contract by £3.5m (10.4%) but said it would be difficult to deliver, commenting: “Active discussions are taking place with CSD and BT.  Currently there is no agreement and an understanding of how this could be delivered is yet to be finalised.”

Ipswich Spy responded (in part):

This looks to us like a holding figure used to balance the budget, without any real intention to find those savings….

Our concern is that SCC isn’t really looking at all. The figure put in the budget has no substance behind it, no explanation of how those savings are going to be made.

Please read Ipswichspy’s full post and the comments.

One of the most important questions surrounding the whole cuts issue is whether SCC is capable of managing a huge range of suppliers from the private and voluntary sectors. The evidence we have of the CSD contract casts severe doubt on that.

A £3.5m reduction in the CSD budget is a big part of the overall proposed cuts and if it is not delivered where does that leave the whole policy? Without full disclosure, claims that SCC’s New Strategic Direction has democracy at its heart look more pious by the day



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