£186m council IT firm deal to create 200 jobs

The deal was made in the hopes of saving �107m by 2020. Picture: Scott Louden
The deal was made in the hopes of saving �107m by 2020. Picture: Scott Louden
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EVERYDAY tasks such as organising council house repairs, paying for school meals and booking funerals are to be shifted online as part of a £186 million upgrade to the Capital’s IT infrastructure.

Classrooms will be among the main beneficiaries, as bandwidth up to 100 times greater than currently available is rolled out in a bid to make the full range of mobile apps and online programmes a regular feature of learning.

Residents will also be able to apply for taxi cards, planning permission and event licences on their laptops and tablets, reducing the need for in-house staff as the city aims to save £107m over the next five years.

And existing online services – for processes such as paying council tax – will be simplified and enhanced.

Canadian IT giant CGI has won a seven-year contract to deliver the improvements and will replace BT as the council’s principal provider of information and communications technology (ICT).

It will also create around 220 jobs in the Capital, with

directors pledging to place business worth a quarter of the deal’s total value with local companies.

Confirmation of the upgrade has been welcomed by business and political figures, who said it would underpin Edinburgh’s economic recovery, as well as its status as a digital hub.

However, city leaders have been urged to ensure there is no negative impact on the elderly and other residents who may struggle to access internet technology.

Dr Colin Adams, director of commercialisation for Edinburgh’s School of Informatics, said the planned upgrade to classroom bandwidth was

particularly significant.

He said: “I would think any kind of initiative like this from the council ought to be a positive thing.

“One of the things that we need to pay attention to is making sure that kids are digitally literate right from the earliest stages, so the schools are a good intercept for that. Without the infrastructure or bandwidth, that simply won’t happen.

“And if it’s something else that creates jobs, it’s to be welcomed. It will draw skilled people and that’s the major battle at the moment. The more we can attract, the better it will be for all communities.”

City bosses said the planned upgrade – and reduced need for frontline staff – would contribute to securing £107m in overall savings by 2020, with recent plans confirming that the council will seek to axe 946 job posts as part of a cost-cutting drive.

However, moves to boost online access in schools come after a previous upgrade managed by BT Openreach suffered

major delays.

The firm was due to complete a bandwidth increase at 137 schools and other learning establishments by the end of September 2013.

But “communications and resourcing” difficulties between BT Openreach and its sub-contractors meant the estimated finish date had to be put back to May last year, with dozens of sites left

waiting for work.

Council bosses said they had “learned lessons” from the episode, adding that the “flexible and integrated” nature of the new deal would ensure there was no repeat.

Opposition leaders said it was essential to ensure delivery of all promises made by the contractor.

Councillor Jason Rust, education spokesman for the city’s Conservatives, said: “On the face of it, this seems to be an improvement overall and specifically for the education sector.

“What’s obviously important

is that the promises that are being made are carried through. If the functionality of the system is improved then that will be all to the good.

“It’s positive if they are increasing online access but there’s obviously a need to be mindful that there are those – the elderly, for example – who, through circumstances, do not necessarily have access to the technology. We would not want them to be left behind. We need to make sure that there’s provision for people who do not have access to the technology.”

Councillor Alasdair Rankin, finance leader, said the IT upgrade would lead to a “sea change” in the way the council operates.

“[The] level of proposed saving is very significant and IT will be vital to help us transform and meet our savings challenge,” he said.

“If approved, this contract will make us more efficient and effective when delivering services.

“Providing young people with the latest online tools is essential and I am confident that this massive increase in bandwidth will greatly improve educational opportunities for all students throughout the city.

“It will also speed up our channel shift programme, giving residents greater flexibility to engage with and carry out their transactions with the council online.”

Councillor Frank Ross, economy leader, added: “This is a three-hitter for us.

“It’s more than 200 additional jobs, which will all provide good-quality employment, and the modern apprenticeships will tie into our Edinburgh Guarantee programme.

“And one of the key elements is the guaranteed 25 per cent of the contract value being channelled into Edinburgh’s small and medium-sized enterprises. Schools will be getting millions of pounds worth of investment in their hardware.”

CGI – which currently employs around 68,000 people and has annual revenues in excess of £5 billion – has a long track record of delivering similar upgrades for local authorities and public organisations across the world. Recent projects include providing the Swedish Transport Authority with enhanced scanning and image capture processes, as well as system improvements for Saskatchewan Health.

Company bosses said they were looking forward to delivering better technology across the Capital.

A spokeswoman for the company said: “CGI is delighted and proud to have been selected as the preferred supplier for the council’s transformational ICT contract, subject to councillors agreeing this at a committee meeting next Monday.

“If agreed, the contract will make a significant, positive difference in how citizens access government services.

“We are pleased at the prospect of being part of Edinburgh’s vision for the future and will work closely with the leadership of the council to implement this unique strategy that will facilitate the council’s channel shift programme to benefit all citizens of Edinburgh.”

KEY CHANGES

• Increased bandwidth for primary and high schools will ensure mobile apps and online tools become a much more varied and regular feature of learning.

• An online pre-payment system for school meals – avoiding the need for mums and dads to hand cash to their children – is among the other services which would be supported.

• Dozens of other regular transactions are to be shifted online, removing the need for form-filling or speaking to a member of staff.

These include: booking funerals and cremations; disabled people applying for taxi cards; and applying for event or alcohol licences.