SEN deficit - cheshire east council headquarters - pic by Mike Faherty

A delayed IT project which is set to cost Cheshire’s councils almost twice its original price is now expected to be fully operational next February, writes Stephen Topping.

Cheshire East Council and Cheshire West and Chester Council entered into a joint agreement with technology firm Agilisys in 2017 to launch a new HR and finance system worth £11.5 million.

The system known as Best4Business – which is now expected to cost the two authorities £22.3 million – was due to launch in September 2018, then December 2018 and again last April.

But following a review of the scheme, the two councils now expect the new finance software to be up and running in October, with the new HR system set to follow next February.

Members of CWAC’s overview and scrutiny committee were given the update at a meeting on Wednesday night.

Commercial negotiations between the two councils and Agilisys are still ongoing, with further details set to be confirmed once they have been concluded.

CEC, on behalf of the two councils, is now looking to sign up external advisors to consult on the remainder of the project.

Best4Business has been at the centre of concern from councillors over recent years.

As part of a recent wide-ranging attack on ‘waste’ at Labour-run CWAC, the council’s Conservative group suggested potential savings of £5 million from the project had now been lost due to the delay.

Mark Taylor, interim executive director of corporate services at CEC, told a scrutiny committee last June that the two councils could trigger penalty clauses in the contract held with Agilisys following the delays – although they would rather maintain a ‘spirit of cooperation’ by avoiding that.

And at a CEC meeting where the £22.3 million cost was revealed last October, Labour Cllr Mike Hunter said: “I am not convinced that this is value for money.

“I just don’t understand why – it’s not like Cheshire County Council had problems paying everybody when they ran a great big organisation, or did they?

“If this goes on for another two years, that cost is going to go up again, and again, and again.”

Frank Jordan, deputy chief executive at CEC, led a review into the project last autumn and brought new recommendations, costs and savings for the scheme to the council’s cabinet last December.

“The programme relates to the replacement of our core financial and HR systems so it is important that we get it right,” he said.

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