Edinburgh council's technology contract 'will need serious scrutiny'

Previous problems led to apology

Wednesday, 9th September 2020, 7:30 am
Iain Whyte wants 'strong scrutiny'

THE contract signed by the city council for “smart city” technology will need “serious scrutiny” because of past problems with the company, Tory group leader Iain Whyte has warned.

The council announced last week it had extended its contract with Canadian-based CGI as its primary tech provider and to develop smart-city initiatives like intelligent traffic lights and bins which tell the department when they’re nearly full.

But in 2017, two years after the council had first given CGI the tech role in place of BT, the Evening News revealed the new IT system was mired in problems and running up to 18 months late.

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CGI later apologised and admitted the service had not met expectations.

Councillor Whyte said: “The initial partnership with CGI took a very long time to deliver a decent basic service and certainly hasn’t delivered the developments in ‘smart city’ that were promised last time round.

“This seems to be a new promise to do what was meant to happen a few years ago, so it will need some really strong management and really strong scrutiny of the contract to make sure it delivers.

“They didn’t badge it ‘smart city’ last time - this is a new branding to get over the fact that things didn’t move on, but it was supposed to change delivery of the council.

“The big buzzword last time was ‘channel shift’ - new systems that would move us away from citizens always having to turn up in person or phone the council and they would be able to do things online or on their phone. We are yet to see whether that can be delivered.”

He conceded there had been a move towards more online services. But he said : “I find some of it very clunky still. I had to change an account recently, it wasn’t a standard one, there were set forms for things but there wasn’t one for what I wanted to do and if you don’t have the form it’s very hard then to give the council the information you need to.”

And he accused the SNP-Labour administration of hypocrisy for refusing to outsource other services while handing such a key contract to a private firm. “They’re saying one thing and doing another.”

The council said running its own large IT staff would cost more than hiring a contractor.

Depute council leader Cammy Day, who is the smart cities lead, said the CGI contract had been unanimously agreed by the finance committee, including the Tory members, and it would save the council £12 million.

He said when there had been problems with the initial contract he and council leader Adam McVey had demanded CGI’s global chief executive came across from Canada “to meet us to hear how disappointed we were”.

He said: “The service has got better massively since then.”

Cllr Day said if the company had not been doing a good job now the council would not have agreed the contract.

He added that one part of the original contract which CGI had not delivered, involving new financial IT systems, had now been taken back by the council.

And he said the new contract allowed the council to go to other firms for any additional services rather than being tied to CGI.

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