Council Spins a Pounds 3m Web of Failure; It Was Five Years in Planning and Cost Pounds 3 Million, but Birmingham City Council's Website Revolution Is Still Beset by Problems. Public Affairs Editor Paul Dale Examines a Highly Critical Report Exposing Management Failure at the Heart of the IT Project
Byline: Paul Dale
n inquiry into delays and spiral -ling costs behind the installation AAAof the city council's new website and IT system notes with laconic understatement: "This develop -ment has not always proceeded as well as might have been wished."
Consultant Leigh Evans, who was asked by the council to investigate the ambitious scheme, reaches conclusions that tread a well-worn path in the history of the vast bureaucracy that is Britain's largest public authority.
The lack of a "clear and robust" command and control structure, ineffective management, frequent changes to specifications, and the absence of a single figure with the power to ask the right questions, give orders and drive things forward are just some of the criticisms that spring from a 64-page report.
The inquiry was completed in February but has only just been published by the council's deputy leader Paul Tilsley, who has overall political control of the website and content management system project. Given the tone, it is perhaps not insignificant that the report was released on the eve of a bank holiday weekend.
A depressing picture is painted of unrealistic deadlines and of middle managers unwilling to report the true extent of delays. Business change director Glyn Evans's reluctance to take the project on because his existing workload was already high is also exposed.
After speaking to more than 60 local authority of-f ficials, the authors of the report were forced to admit: "We remain unclear who is actually in overall charge of the web within Birmingham City Council."
Glyn Evans emerges as a man who did his best, and in fact saved the council pounds 900,000 by negotiating down additional costs that Service Birmingham, the Capita-led company responsible for the council's IT services, wanted to impose on the web project. Coun Tilsley is also credited with personally taking action to get the website back on track.
However, the report states: "It is our opinion that a better structure was required directly below director-level to provide improved dayto-day control, information flow, and to assist in financial management.
"The whole governance and management question becomes much more complicated when one descends down the command and control structure.
"Whilst there was a continuity of governance throughout the last five years, at various times it appears there was an absence of a single project manager co-ordinating and driving the project. It need hardly be said that this factor would have proved highly problematic in ensuring delivery of the objectives as they changed over time."
The consultants believe the council should appoint a senior official solely responsible for delivering web-based services, although it is unclear whether this will happen during a period of severe public spending cuts.
The inquiry found the council's internal communications to be poor with a "reluctance to deliver bad news". …