As reported in computer weekly:
Birmingham City Council, recognised as the UK’s largest local authority, is confronting a twin crisis. As the institution grapples with an outstanding £760 million bill for equal pay claims, its IT system’s transition has hit turbulent waters. This situation is intensified by the impending cost, estimated to be up to £100 million, to rectify and roll out the new IT infrastructure.
The city council, already under financial strain, issued a section 114 notice, effectively signalling its inability to balance its budget and restricting its expenditures to only vital services. The ongoing IT system challenges are further exacerbating the council’s fragile financial state.
Originally, the new IT system represented one of the most ambitious infrastructural changes for the council since 1999. It was viewed as a pivotal step towards modernising the council’s operations and enhancing efficiency. However, the system’s complete rollout, which was initially slated for 2020, faced significant delays due to unforeseen challenges and glitches.
By April 2023, the cracks in the new IT system became evident when a substantial number of transactions had to be manually recorded. This bottleneck not only disrupted the council’s day-to-day operations but also impeded the timely closure of its accounts for the fiscal year 2022-23.
While the IT system debacle unfolds, the council also finds itself mired in a longstanding equal pay claim issue. Thousands of female council employees, in 2014, were awarded compensation following a successful claim. They argued that they were unjustly excluded from bonuses that their male counterparts, on the same pay grade, received. The compensation pertains to discrepancies dating back several years, and the current liabilities arising from these claims range between £650-750 million, accumulating at a monthly rate of £5-14 million.
For our IT-focused community, the council’s IT predicament is a stark reminder of the complexities and challenges that can arise when updating large-scale infrastructures. The ongoing setbacks have sparked discussions on effective project management, vendor selection, and the importance of rigorous testing before rolling out enterprise-level IT systems.
In response to the emerging challenges, an independent governance review is now underway. This review aims to thoroughly investigate the reasons behind the delayed detection of the IT system issues and chart a path for resolution by March 2024.
As Birmingham City Council grapples with these significant challenges, its journey offers valuable insights for other institutions on the intricacies of IT system transitions and the unforeseen challenges that might arise, especially when financial strains exist concurrently.