AN IT project for both Cheshire councils which is more than a year overdue is now expected to cost almost double its original price at £22.3 million.

Cheshire East Council and Cheshire West and Chester Council entered into a joint agreement with technology firm Agilisys in 2017 to launch a new HR and finance system worth £11.5 million.

The system known as Best4Business was due to launch last September, then last December, then in April 2019 – but is now only set to be in operation next year following a review of the scheme.

At CEC’s corporate overview and scrutiny meeting on Thursday, some councillors raised concerns about the cost of the system, which will be split between the two councils.

Cllr Mike Hunter, Labour, said: “I am not convinced that this is value for money.

Winsford Guardian:

"I just don’t understand why – it’s not like Cheshire County Council had problems paying everybody when they ran a great big organisation, or did they?

“If this goes on for another two years, that cost is going to go up again, and again, and again.

“Yes I understand it’s not just suffered by us, but it’s still a double in costs. In two years is it £45 million?”

The review revealed that the Best4Business system built up so far has had a number of defects, but also that the two councils’ requirements have changed since 2017.

Agilisys and the councils have now agreed which party is responsible for different parts of the project.

The system will now be turned on in phases, rather than all in one go, to make the transition from old HR and finance software smoother.

And specialist staff are likely to be brought in to check the system is working and to train staff up on how to use it.

Cllr Janet Clowes, CEC’s Conservative group leader, said: “It’s a phenomenal amount of money and clearly the costs have risen – but so have the specifications.

Winsford Guardian:

“It’s quite clear that a lot of those costs are going to be involving getting the right staff to actually operate the system and make sure the rest of the staff are trained up to use the system.

“But ultimately, what I have realised is that there comes a point at which in order to offer that service and functionality across a big organisation you just have to grit your teeth and get the system up and running.

“My big fear is that if we stop at this point, we end up doing it all again, which would cost even more.”

Alex Thompson, director of finance and performance at CEC, moved to reassure members that the two councils could find more financial savings from running the system than they previously expected when the original business case for it was approved.

In a statement issued on Friday, Frank Jordan, CEC’s executive director of place and acting deputy chief executive, said: “Owing to a number of difficulties in delivering this programme to date, I have undertaken a thorough review to understand how to resolve the issues.

“The programme relates to the replacement of our core financial and HR systems so it is important that we get it right.

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“Regular updates have been presented to our scrutiny committee which have included my core recommendations to ensure we can deliver this programme effectively.

“A full set of recommendations on the programme will be presented to the council’s cabinet meeting in December which will include a revised forecast cost, management arrangements and the benefits and savings that will be achieved once it is implemented.”