SBC: Council releases ‘private’ papers about CGI contract

SCOTTISH Borders Council (SBC) has now released previously withheld information about its multimillion-pound contract extension with a Canadian IT giant.

The council announced in October that it had signed an extension with CGI until 2040, with the original contract having been set to run out in 2029.

Now, following a Freedom of Information (FoI) request submitted by retired journalist Bill Chisholm, SBC has released previously withheld information about the new deal.

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Overall, SBC’s extended partnership with CGI will cost £99 million.

The contract extension alone totals £65 million – following an £11 million accelerated service discount from CGI.

Of that £11 million, a total of £8 million will be provided over a two-year period from April 2021 through “service charge reductions”, with the remaining £3 million spread over the rest of the extension period.

Adding to that £65 million, SBC has promised £34 million to CGI over a 36-month period of “IT transformation”.

That three-year timeframe started in October of last year and will end in March, 2024.

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This “transformation period” will see the council implement its ‘Fit for 2024’ programme, with a commitment to CGI of £5.7 million during the first six months (October 2020-March 2021).

SBC says it will fund the £5.7 million fee by taking money from five pools. A total of £3.3 million will come from the council’s unspent budget, with £1.5 million coming from balance sheet reviews.

The rest of the total will be taken from money already set aside for the IT budget, as well as more than £250,000 from both the IT Transformation Reserve and the Energy Efficiency Reserve.

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According to a document released in response to the FoI request, the total £34 million investment will “further enhance the council’s IT capability, assist with service delivery for example through enhanced mobile working, and thus enable the delivery of future financial savings that will assist with the revenue budget”.

SBC says the Fit for 2024 programme will help to tackle problems in the Borders such as “a greater demand for our services”, as well as an ageing population.

Set to be delivered via eight digital schemes, the programme will aim to provide “enhanced support services for more than 115,000 Borders residents”.

There is also a target in place to reduce the council’s carbon footprint to net zero by 2045.

One document states that CGI has already contributed to reducing the council’s footprint “by an estimated 38 tonnes of CO2 in two years through improving printing facilities”.

In a report put to councillors in August, David Robertson, SBC’s chief financial officer, described the “pace and scale” of the £34 million investment as “challenging” but “necessary” for the council.

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When the extension with CGI was announced, it was claimed that the Borders could become the “most hi-tech rural area in Europe”.

However, it drew criticism from Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell who accused SBC of “secret” negotiations in the lead up to signing the deal.

The council had released few details publicly regarding the extension before the FoI request.

At the time of the extension announcement, an SBC spokesperson stated that “we have no secrets at Scottish Borders Council, only a desire to respect the commercial confidentiality of our key suppliers”.

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Now, however, documents – including minutes of council meetings – have been released by the local authority.

The material includes reports put to councillors ahead of the decision to accept the extension.

When asked to provide a comment on the release of these documents, an SBC spokesperson said: “The council has released information previously considered by elected members in private detailing a contract extension with our strategic IT partner CGI.

“The investment the council will now make in IT transformation with CGI will help to drive improvements in public services and future revenue savings, adding to the £55 million of budget savings delivered since 2013.

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“No capital projects were cut from the council’s capital plan as a result of the decision to invest money in the contract extension with CGI and the council continues to move forward with its ambitious capital investment proposals which include new secondary schools in Peebles, Galashiels and Hawick and new care facilities, amongst many other projects.”

The release of the documents comes after Mr Chisholm’s FoI request to SBC.

Mr Chisholm, 75, started his journalistic career in Berwick in the early 1960s.

He joined The Scotsman in 1967 before being made the paper’s reporter for the Borders two years later.

Having retired in 2005, Mr Chisholm, of Jedburgh, regularly updates his blog Not Just Sheep and Rugby.

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