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Furore over Somerset council's £30 million computer glitch

By This is Somerset  |  Posted: May 27, 2009

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Hundreds of computer experts are trying to fix glitches in Somerset County Council's £30 million computer system, which is still yet to be used.

The expensive system, called SAP and planned to be used across a myriad of council departments, was originally supposed to be fully operational at Somerset County Council on February 1.

But that date was soon changed to April 1, then June 1, but with days to go, council staff have now been told that the date has been delayed again – with no new date has yet being given for its completion.

Now hundreds of IBM experts have been drafted in to try to get the fiercely controversial scheme up and running.

The Conservative party, which has been a consistent critic of the scheme, says the delays are proof of a systemic failure by the Liberal Democrat administration at county hall in Taunton.

Somerset Tory leader Ken Maddock said: "The Lib Dems committed themselves to spend £30m of Somerset residents’ money on this system, and yet cannot deliver it on time.

"In their 2005 election manifesto they promised to install such a system but, four years on, it is still not operational. This is just another example of the Lib Dems failing the people of Somerset."

Teething troubles are said to have led to delays in payment to some council suppliers. The system is part of Southwest One, a partnership between the council, IBM, Avon and Somerset police and Taunton Deane Borough Council.

But the Lib Dems insist IBM is picking up the cost of the delay, and that SAP will give £14m in efficiency savings over the 10-year life of the project plus another £150m savings in procurement.

The computer’s base accounting system is operational but modules that cover human resources, payroll, customer record management, and the portal, have yet to be added. Glitches include difficulties in accepting customer authentication codes. All areas of council operation – such as care homes, and highways services – have to put in an individual customer code to place orders for services or supplies.

In a letter to staff over the Bank Holiday weekend, council chief executive Alan Jones said: “I would like to emphasise that we do not intend to go live with the additional modules until we receive adequate assurances that the system has been properly installed and tested.

“We are working with the Southwest One project team to ensure that we will have these assurances. However, we do need to continue to prepare, so please support requests you may receive to get involved in testing and training processes.

“We are continuing to reduce the number of invoices in the system waiting to be paid. The calls from suppliers chasing payment should begin to tail off shortly.”

Conservative Group spokesman for finance David Huxtable said: “It is sad to note that with all the resources of IBM and all the promises given, this project is slipping and slipping. and slipping

“The Conservatives have consistently warned of possible delays with the implementation and our worst fears have been realised. This looks like yet another part of County Hall that needs sorting out by the Conservatives if we win the election.”

Sam Crabb, Liberal Democrat portfolio holder for strategic finance and resources said: “I am disappointed that it isn’t going to be ready for June 1 but this is a major upgrade – we are replacing 198 different computer systems. and a lot of local authorities have taken a huge amount of blood, sweat, tears, and a long time – two years sometimes, to bring this sort of thing in.

“We have a fixed-price contract with IBM and I don’t think there is any cost to the council, other than not having it in place to start saving more money. The base accounting system is on and the glitches are being sorted out. IBM has hundreds of people working on it, and it’s generally working well.”

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    J. Terry, Bradford  |  June 08 2009, 3:51PM

    Sounds exactly like the scenario at Bradford Council with SAP & IBM. The DFT have also suffered this shambolic, over priced system.

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