Suffolk Council ignored £116m BT overspend, says ex-supply director

Suffolk County Council has repeatedly ignored warnings that a major outsourcing project with BT is running £116 million over budget, according to reports.

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Suffolk County Council has repeatedly ignored warnings that a major outsourcing project with BT is running £116 million over budget, according to reports.

The comments, by Suffolk’s former supplier relationship director Michael Gower, were reported in the Guardian newspaper. Gower alleged that as the payments overran, BT took Suffolk’s chief executive to a number of conferences in the US.

The deal had been due to cost £301 million over 10 years, but contracted costs had increased to £417 million.

BT said the increasing costs were owing to Suffolk deciding to procure more services.

Any cost overruns are likely to be seen as controversial, given that the venture was aimed at saving the council money and that the council is cutting jobs extensively. Suffolk is outsourcing most of its services.

Gower said he suggested significant changes to the venture, Customer Service Direct, covering IT, finance and human resources. But the council ignored the suggestions, he claimed, as chief executive Andrea Hill accepted trips to Boston and San Francisco paid for by BT.

“Interventions” by Hill had “frustrated” attempts to make changes, Gower said. “Suffolk County Council is not getting money out of one of its largest contracts. We were incapable of making the decisions needed to deliver the multimillion pound savings to the benefit of the council taxpayers of Suffolk,” he said.

“In view of the enormous BT contract held by the council, she should never have asked or been given approval to go on a BT-funded trip which could have been construed to put her under an obligation,” he said.

A spokesperson at Suffolk County Council said: “We have developed a number of services using the contract which has therefore increased the value of the contract.”
 
The flights to conferences, paid for by BT, were “part of a public sector training programme that is widely attended by chief executives in local government”, the spokesperson said.

BT denied that there had been any overspending. The company said Suffolk had procured additional functions, including those covering “adult and community services, further finance work, and additional investment in ICT”.

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