The headline to this article is both shocking and incredulous. Council leader Malcolm Pate is quoted in today’s Shropshire Star as saying that an upgrade to the council’s computer systems will cost more than £10 million. I can’t confirm the figure because my ancient council iPad has deceased and I can’t access council paperwork. But if Malcolm Pate tells the Star its £10 million, then that’s likely to be an initial ballpark figure.
We need to add to this the £6.5 million already agreed to replace the computer system used for children’s and adult social care. And add to that the £600,000 spent on computing consultancy fees recently. So we are totalling £17 million before any cost overruns.
I can tell you that the council’s computer systems are at the point of breakdown. Machines, software and business processes struggle to cope with the demands of a modern council. The council leadership has failed to invest in the technology it needs for the last seven years. It has also failed to invest in its buildings, especially Shirehall which is a decrepit – except of course for the refurbished West Wing, home to the plush offices of the council leadership (see clarification below). It has treated its staff equally badly, sacking them, cutting their wages and generally making them feel like they are just a line on a spreadsheet rather than valued employees. It has treated IT systems with similar disregard.
I have no doubt that we need to pay a lot of money to upgrade the council’s computer systems. The adult social care budget is routinely over budget because the council doesn’t know how much it is spending. Staff and councillors can’t work effectively because there computer systems are ancient.
Malcolm Pate has not said why the council’s computer systems have fallen into disrepair. He has told the Shropshire Star: “It is important we get it right to take us into the next 20 to 30 years.” No computer system or approach to computing can last that long. He is in cloud cuckoo land if he thinks that. But the whole council has been in cloud cuckoo land since it was created in 2009. What major business with a turnover of half a billion pounds a year would fail to invest in its information technology? Only Shropshire Council it seems.
It is no surprise that the news of another £10 million hike in computing costs was released for a bank holiday Monday. To use a hackneyed phrase – today was a good day to bury bad news. For £17 million, we could fund a lot of services. Things like libraries, museums, leisure centres, youth services, buses and so much else that the council leadership is planning to cease funding from next April.
I have not seen any finance data that suggests where this money can be found. The chances are it will come from already overstretched budgets across the council. That will only lead to more service cuts.
Shropshire Council is imploding because for the last seven years it has only believed in its own self destruction. It wants to commission everything out to contractors and communities. It’s ambition is to take the most minimal role possible in public service in Shropshire. In its obsession with dumping everything it can, it has forgotten that it still must operate effectively until the point when it doesn’t matter any more. That’s why the council has neglected computing systems. staff and buildings. That’s why it staggers from crisis to crisis. And that’s why we council taxpayers are going to pay upwards of £17 million on council computers in the next few years.
Rereading my text, I think it useful to clarify that I am referring and blaming political leadership for the failures to invest, not senior executives within Shropshire Council.