Soaring council IT project costs won’t be refunded by the Welsh Government
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
The £10 million costs of a new IT system at a Welsh Council won’t be refunded by the Welsh Government, it has been confirmed.
Swansea Council’s new Oracle Fusion system went live in April this year and was described at a council scrutiny committee meeting as being fit for the future and more robust than its predecessor.
The original budget of £4.8 million, which was approved in 2019, soared during the Covid pandemic because it took much longer to implement the new Cloud-based system than planned. The extended project involved external and in-house IT specialists.
The committee has previously been advised that the budget increased to £8.4 million and then £10.7 million, with £6.1 million of this rise linked to the pandemic.
A new committee report said funding for the project totalled £12.3 million, including a £500,000 contingency sum. It said a further £880,000 had funded extra temporary staff to ensure the council’s finance and service centre kept operating as normal during the pandemic.
Referring to the £6.1 million additional costs which council chiefs said were associated with Covid, the report said: “A case was made to the Welsh Government to meet these costs but unfortunately this was unsuccessful.”
Scrutiny committee chairman, Cllr Peter Black, asked at a meeting on October 17 if the council had got value for money.
In reply, Cllr Andrea Lewis, cabinet member for service transformation, said the new system was fit for purpose and fit for the future. She said: “We could not have predicted or mitigated the pandemic.” Cllr Lewis added that an Oracle project was reportedly costing a large English council £100 million.
Council leader Rob Stewart said he would be more concerned if Swansea’s costs had risen without any specific reasons, and that the authority would be stuck with a “legacy” system had it not proceeded as it did. “We went for the best option,” said Cllr Stewart.
The committee heard there will be some further Oracle costs – to ensure, for example, that new council staff can access the system and to ensure access from different devices. Cllr Stewart some of these extra costs will be covered this year by the £500,000 contingency sum, but that further budget decisions would need to be made after that.
The committee heard that there had been some positive staff feedback about the Oracle Fusion system, despite some integration issues. Around nine incidents were currently being reported per day. The report said 63 benefits of the new system had been identified.
The lifespan of the new system has been estimated at 10 to 20 years, but the committee was told it was actually longer. Sarah Lackenby, head of digital and customer sales, said that quarterly “patches” to the system and other incremental changes meant Oracle Fusion was “infinite to some extent”.
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