Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Birmingham Council spends £300k and goes nowhere

Sometimes you read a story and sit there open mouthed at the incompetence and waste that it reveals. It appears that Birmingham City Council child social services have handed over £300,000 of council taxpayers' money to consultants and told them to go off and find them an integrated case management system to bring together nine databases.

The outcome has been that the consultants have come back and told the council that this doesn't exist and have had the nerve to present an invoice for that amount. Given the rates that the consultants charge, that equates to at least 70 weeks worth of consultancy 'work.'

To add insult to injury, it also means that the £18 million of savings factored into the Business Transformation Project as a result of the ICMS deployment now won't appear. I think you have to admire a project that sets out a budget for savings without any concept of whether those savings are actually possible. You might even suggest that the figures were simply plucked from thin air and I think you'd be right.

Do you have to be an IT consultant to realise that a project of that size is likely to be beyond the reach of any off the shelf product? This is a bespoke project and - for the right company and a smart council - one that could be sold on elsewhere, for Birmingham is not the only local authority with such needs. If such a package could be created to work for an authority like Birmingham, then it is likely to work virtually anywhere else.

You should also bear in mind that this is a service staggering towards a government takeover if things do not drastically improve. The appointment of Len Clark, the councillor who wrote an excellent report last year exposing the failings of the service, was thought by many - including me - to be a good move, but if he is having any effect, it seems to be at a glacial rate. His commented
We spent considerable time and energy looking for an alternative system, when in fact there wasn’t such a thing on the market. Perhaps we should have recognised that more quickly.

Really? You think that you could have spotted that a few hundreds of thousands of pounds ago?

To round it off, Cllr Les Lawrence - a decent man, to be fair to him, and someone for whom I have had serious respect - added
It has been the cinderella service and never given the attention in the past that it should have been. We are now getting to grips with it and our first priority is the safeguarding of children.
Councillor, you have had six years since you ejected Labour. You have had the benefit of looser rules on borrowing and thumping increases in grants from government. What the hell have you been doing since 2004 that you are only now getting to grips with protecting the children in our city?

In any decent world, those consultants would find their invoice unpaid and told to sling their expensive Gucci loafers and expense accounts, but they will probably be back to bury their snouts in the trough of our money and the councillors will welcome them.

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