Audit Commission probes SouthWest One deal

A complaint about an outsourcing deal between Avon and Somerset Police and Somerset County Council is being investigated by the Audit Commission.

The force paid £2.8m to the council in order to join SouthWest One - a company set up to handle public bodies' administrative services.

The Commission has received a complaint that the move illegally subsidised people living outside of Somerset.

The force said it had been operating within the terms of its contract.

It had joined the company after paying an initial £2.8m to the county council with the promise of a further £2.17m if any other organisation joined.

'Public interest report'

However, the council has admitted it is unlikely any more firms will join and the final installment is unlikely to be paid.

Former council employee Dave Orr has complained to the Audit Commission saying that people living in the former Avon county area are being subsidised by the deal in breach of local government rules.

SouthWest One was set up in 2007 by the county council, Taunton Deane Borough Council and IBM, nine months before the police force joined.

The company was intended to allow public bodies to save money by sharing human resources, payroll and call handling staff.

Brian Bethell, of the Audit Commission, said it was considering writing a public interest report on the deal.

Any findings would not be binding but would publically highlight any issues with the Southwest One deal.

"The objection is under way at the moment, we're looking into papers and will come to a conclusion depending how quickly we can get the information," he said.

"We'll decide whether we should do a public interest report, or if the grounds for the complaint are not upheld we won't publish a report."

A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Police said the force paid the money towards a deal for accounting software.

The spokesman added: "As a late joiner to SouthWest One and to help contribute to the costs incurred by other partners Avon and Somerset Police helpfully agreed to pay over £5m towards SAP."

Ken Maddock, Somerset County Council leader, said: "It was anticipated that a further £2.17m would be payable should SouthWest One expand to other public sector organisations, we accept that this is now unlikely to happen.

"The SCC side of the contract is under renegotiation as it is not working as well as we all hoped."

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