Outsourcing: be careful what you ask for…

Cornwall County Council wants to end its ‘strategic IT partnership’ with outsourcer BT after only 2 years of a 10-year contract. The two sides go to court in December to find out if the council has the right to do this.

Cornwall CC states that BT has breached its contract because it did not create the jobs in years 1 and 2 that were clearly part of contractual obligations. Councillors and officers are unhappy about many other aspects of the deal, allegedly including BT’s failure to achieve key performance indicators.

If Cornwall CC loses the case, it will have to continue using BT as its IT provider (a company that will then have been its high court adversary) and it may also have to pay BT’s legal costs.

Odds may be stacked against Cornwall winning because BT has long-standing experience in dealing with outsourcing legalities:  its managers may have been gathering evidence of council shortcomings from day 1 of the contract in case things turned sour.

During 2015, Cornwall CC conducted talks with BT executives but in August, when an amicable contract termination could not be reached, BT instructed its lawyers to seek an injunction preventing the council from terminating the contract.

It could be said that Cornwall CC has given insufficient time for the new contract to ‘bed-in’. Indeed, it’s unusual for a ‘strategic partnership’ to end up in court less than 3 years into a 10-year contract. However, jobs promised early in the contract appear to have not materialised, as well as other concerns.

It’s to Cornwall CC’s credit that its outsourcing issues have been so openly and publicly discussed, but it’s a far cry from the period running-up to contract award when BT and council officers were promising much, yet saying little about what could go wrong.

It may be that such problems are common to many outsourcing deals. It’s just that ruling councillors and officers often don’t talk about them in public.