Monday, 18 May 2015

BT Cornwall failing to deliver - UPDATED

A highly critical review by Cornwall Council has found that BT Cornwall are failing to deliver on their promises for more jobs and better services. Indeed, the only area where they are living up to their promise is in making savings - because the amount the council has to hand over is fixed in the contract.

The deal with BT was agreed by the authority three years ago and formally started a year later. The company agreed to make savings in delivering a range of back office functions including document management and IT. They promised to create 111 new jobs but have delivered just 35. Their aim was to attract new business and create a further 240 jobs, but this aspiration has failed completely leading to BT Cornwall pulling out of an agreement to rent part of the council's new office building in Bodmin. (The new building still makes financial sense for the council even without BT Cornwall's involvement)

The company has also delivered a poor service in some key respects. The recent upgrade of council computer systems to Windows 7 ran way behind time and the authority had to dedicate some of its own staff to checking that the work had been done correctly.

As a result, BT Cornwall has been fined more than £100,000.

When the deal was first agreed, there had been a proposal from the former cabinet member in charge (and now MP for St Austell and Newquay) Steve Double for a much bigger package to be handed over to BT. The majority of councillors were somewhat fearful of entrusting so much to the company and voted for a smaller deal. It seems the view of those of us who went for the smaller deal has been borne out - although Mr Double still seems to think the council should have gone 'all in'.

During my time on the cabinet, I received a number of entreaties from BT Cornwall to hand over more services to them. They wanted to take over the call centre in particular and said they would consider any service. Whilst a number of Conservatives pressed for more to be handed over, I and my cabinet colleagues resisted and insisted that BT Cornwall should deliver on the initial contract before being given more. I think we were right to do so.

Rightly or wrongly, Cornwall Council is in a contract with BT and it is important that BT Cornwall turns things round and delivers fully on the promises it made. It is in all our interests for the venture to succeed - to make savings, to deliver high quality services and to provide new jobs.

UPDATE - Cllr Fiona Ferguson, Leader of the Conservative Group, has written:
"Since the general election he and his (now former) Cabinet colleagues have said the jobs are not there and they were dubious for a considerable time as to whether this deal would succeed."
I cannot speak for others, but my concern about the BT Cornwall deal has been there from the start. I wished the new venture well but was not happy to see it extended until it had shown its success at the limited range of tasks with which it was first entrusted.

As for the promise of new jobs - BT Cornwall made repeated assurances to me and to others that they would be living up to their end of the contract and I trusted them when they agreed to take on space in the new office building to house them. Nobody expected the company to create all the new jobs overnight but it is now apparent that they are not forthcoming.

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