Peterborough Councillors question the mistakes made and £4million cost incurred in changing IT operating system for the second time in two years

Peterborough City Council leader John Holdich
Peterborough City Council leader John Holdich
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Peterborough City Council looks set to change its entire IT system for the second time in just two years - at a total cost of 4.12million to the taxpayer.

Just over two years ago, Peterborough City Councillors were informed that in order to save costs and avoid an expensive upgrade to the (then) existing Microsoft 2013 and 365 software, their IT operating system would need to be changed and adopt ‘cloud-powered’ Google Apps and Chromebooks instead.

This all took place at a cost to the tax-payers of £3m, and has been in place ever since.

Now councillors are being told that this was all in fact ‘a big mistake’ and that the Google Aps and Chromebooks do not integrate with the approved IT plan adopted by Cambridgeshire County Council, and therefore – in order to save further costs – Peterborough City Council will be required to change its IT operating system back to the ‘cloud-based’ Microsoft 365 software… at a cost of £1.12m.

Needless to say there was heated discussion at the Full Council meeting (Wednesday) with Cllr Nick Sandford (Lib Dem) wanting to know how much money this would all end up costing the tax-payers of Peterborough.

Cllr David Seaton (Con) in response, said: “As members well know we have been working towards integrating systems across the two authorities for some time to save money. If, as part of that process, there is the need for an integrated IT system, then that is what we shall have to provide; in this case that means going back to Microsoft”.

However, Cllr Ed Murphy (Lab) was not satisfied: “We were told two years ago that by spending £3m on a new system there would be substantial savings. That was an error. It was wrong. Well done to the officers for flagging it up and saying that it was wrong, and that now we must put another £1.12m this year, and probably the same amount again next year to correct that error, and go back to the Microsoft system. Two years at that rate, plus the £3m we’ve already spent – that’s £5m that we’ve lost that could’ve been spent on vital services”.

Cllr David Seaton (Con) responded: “I’m sorry Cllr Murphy, with the benefit of hindsight we’d all be very lucky people – at the time we made our decision about the IT strategy we were not moving to shared services with Cambridgeshire. I accept that we have changed direction, and moving to the Microsoft platform with Cambridgeshire we now see as the better long-term option for those shared services. But that does not make the original decision a wrong one, at the point it was taken”.

Leader of the Council, Cllr John Holdich (Con), added: “We do 18 shared services with five different authorities, and we need to talk to the Health Authority and a host of others in a language and manner in which their system can understand. It’s wrong to say that it’s a total loss because much of the expense went into hand-held devices for freedom-of-workspace movement, and that technology is still there”.

Cllr Darren Fower (Ind), like Cllr Murphy, was not satisfied: “This is an ironically titled ‘IT Improvement Plan’ – I spoke recently with a former council IT officer, no longer with us, and told him of these events. His comments in response to the news were far from complimentary”.

“I hear what Cllr Holdich has said about Cambridgeshire using Microsoft, but given that we were previously told about the efficiencies of Google, why have we succumbed to the whim of Cambridgeshire County Council? Why have we not been strong enough to stand up to them and say ‘why don’t you move over to Google?’, instead of us”.

“What impact is this all going to have on our sales force who are running around with Google-related tech in their pockets? When we change over to Microsoft will we still be using our Google Chromebooks, and how many has this authority purchased, and at what cost to local tax-payers?”.

Cllr Seaton replied: “Why did we choose Microsoft over Google? Because we assessed all the options, and Microsoft came out the best. We can use the Chromebooks whatever platform we are on and quite frankly I’m not going to comment further on the hearsay that Cllr Fower is talking about”.