Council chiefs vow to learn lessons from seven-year IT project

By Mark Smith - Local Democracy Reporter

29th Sep 2022 | Local News

Cheshire East Council's HQ, Westfields in Sandbach
Cheshire East Council's HQ, Westfields in Sandbach

Council chiefs in Cheshire have vowed to learn lessons following a review of seven-year IT project which a local Conservative group branded 'a complete financial shambles'.

Cheshire West and Chester and Cheshire East councils recently held a meeting to discuss which lessons could be learned from the Best4Business project, which was designed to replace both councils' ageing business IT systems with a new cloud-based network.

Launched in 2016, the joint project was initially expected to cost £11.8m, the eventual cost was upwards of £25.1m due to delays and disagreements, along with the project essentially having to be restarted after both councils took over implementation from the developer.

The initial plan had been for it to go online in September 2018, but that was eventually pushed back to November last year.

Cheshire West was under Labour control in 2016, while Cheshire East was under a Conservative administration.

Following the project's completion, councillors asked for a review to be conducted which made a number of recommendations around how such joint projects should be handled in the future.

Cllr Neil Sullivan, finance spokesman for the Cheshire West and Chester Conservative group, said: "From start to finish, and it isn't over yet, this has been a complete financial shambles which will have a massive impact on local taxpayers.

"When all costs and expenditure are taken into account is that this IT project, in total, had an initial budget of £13.8m but has ballooned to some £30million if you include revenue from each council.

"The additional costs mean a liability for both CWAC and Cheshire East, shared 50/50, of some £16m.

"How on earth has this been allowed to happen and why hasn't the cabinet member with responsibility apologised for such a grotesque waste of public money and considered her position immediately?"

But Cllr Carol Gahan, cabinet member for legal and finance at Cheshire West said the system would save money through greater efficiency.

She said: "Designing new IT systems always takes time, especially when new features and functionality are added during the project.

"Councillor Sullivan's understanding of this is flawed, and I am glad our council and Cheshire East have worked together carefully to ensure the quality and stability of the system."

Jane Burns, executive director for corporate services at Cheshire East Council, added: "This has been a significant joint endeavour across both councils.

"Despite the challenges experienced, we managed to implement the new system, fundamentally changing the way we operate, while ensuring that our staff and our suppliers still got paid with relatively few individual issues.

"The programme review has shown us the importance of communication, engagement and training activity when implementing a new system like this – we have learned a lot together throughout the programme."

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