Tory/IBM Somerset council plan to sell off 89 county farms

Tony Gosling tony at
Mon May 3 22:34:10 BST 2010

Quasi-privatised Somerset County Council up to no good
see below for Somerset council IBM 
'privatisation' scandal exposed by Bridgwater Tory MP

Fears over plan to sell council farms

Daily Press, 
1, 2010

Selling off Somerset County Council's farms would 
amount to slamming the door on young farmers 
looking for a way into the industry, councillors have been warned.

The Tory-run administration is suspected of 
having a secret plan to start disposing of the 
89-holding estate once the election is over.

Three tenants whose leases are up for renewal 
have been told there will be no decision on their 
future until after next Thursday.

One of these is Matthew Heal, who feels his 
future at his farm in Over Stowey is in limbo.

David Laws, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary 
Candidate for Yeovil, says the council is clearly 
preparing to sell off the core estate.

"But it seems that the Conservatives are 
determined to keep this plan secret until after 
the General Election, because they know how unpopular it will be," he said.

Liberal Democrats themselves sold off some of the 
outlying farms when they ran the council - but 
pledged to retain the core of the estate.

But the three properties whose future is now in 
question are all in the remaining core - 
heightening fears the Tories could embark on a 
wholesale sell-off when the political climate is right.

Mr Laws said he was seriously concerned about the 
future of the estate. "Selling the county farms 
would be a devastating blow to farming in 
Somerset and it would make it more difficult for 
young farmers to come into the business.

"The Conservative Leader of Somerset County 
Council must now either confirm or deny these plans."

Councillor David Huxtable, portfolio holder for 
the estate, says the future of all county council 
assets will be considered at a meeting in June.

He said the farm estate was worth between Pounds 
40 and Pounds 50 million but claimed it returned 
a net income of less than Pounds 50,000 a year.


SouthWest One is a Joint Venture company set up 
in 2007 by Somerset County Council, Taunton Deane 
Council and now including Avon and Somerset 
Police. I have nothing against joint ventures in 
principle, but this one was born in a most 
peculiar manner and offers 75%+ to IBM. It was 
and remains a huge and risky venture for public 
sector partners. It could cost taxpayers £400 
million. I always believed there had been 
excessive secrecy about the negotiations to form 
it, justifyable suspicion about the roles of 
several leading players and a totally unrealistic 
business plan. Since the County Council elections 
in June 2009 a change of administration at County 
Hall has seen the departure of the Chief 
Executive, Alan Jones, and a review of the 
SouthWest One. I am now more relaxed abut the 
ability of the politicians to keep tabs on an IBM-dominated company.

This page offers a snapshot of what went wrong.

made my first Parliamentary speech about the 
subject on March 26th 2008. I continued to attack 
the secretive methods used to establish the 
made another speech on June 17th in the House. 
The campaign continued relentlessly with several 
bitter public skirmishes with Somerset County 
Council's then Chief Executive. But I stuck to my 
March 2009 I secured another debate to raise all 
the issues. My fire was primarily directed at the 
SCC's Chief Executive, but also included genuine 
concerns about the role of Avon and Somerset's 
Police Chief and the "independent" chairman Sir Jay Tidmarsh.

I do not know Sir James (Jay) Tidmarsh 
personally. He served as Lord Lieutenant of 
Bristol. His credentials obviously impressed the 
IBM dominated mob who pull the strings at 
SouthWest One. He looked like the "respectable" face of local capitalism.

"He will work with the board and will be 
responsible for implementing the overall strategy 
of the project and for the integrity of the 
private/public partnership. Sir James joins a 
team set on delivering value and improved 
services to the people and communities of the local area.


Sir James has many links with Avon and Somerset 
Police. There's no crime in that. Except that 
Avon and Somerset Police now hugely outnumber all 
other participants in their representation on the 
SouthWest One Board. The Chief Constable - Colin 
Port - sits there (why does nobody raise at least 
an eyebrow at the idea of a police chief being on 
the board of a company from which his force buys services?)

Wanted for Double Standards

It is also well worth remembering that the 
original deals with IBM were brokered by Sue 
Barnes - who happens to be Mrs Colin Port.

Sir James may turn out to be the only good thing 
to emerge from SouthWest One. Or he may be just 
another semi-retired local hero who comes 
complete with a knighthood and has been appointed 
because his track record looks respectable (which 
might impress potential new clients).But he was 
also hired to be independent, to think 
independently and to act in the best interests of 
all those who do not have a voice in this 
muddle.Sir James therefore has to prove his 
independence. And prove it fast. He should meet 
the unions. He should insist that his company 
recognises and negotiates with the unions. He 
should not allow his company to shelter behind a 
constant cloak of secrecy.Good on him if he 
does.But I will be have his guts for garters if he fails.

Sadly the working policemen I meet don't have 
faith in SouthWest One. Some of them are now 
putting pen to paper. And this is an example - 
from an officer who doesn't want to lose a shirt:

Is SouthWest One about to take her shirt away?

“I, along with colleagues, submitted an annual 
shirt request about 3 months ago. I sent a 
message recently asking when the shirts would 
arrive. I got a reply e-mailed from the supplies 
Dept via my supervisor stating that the Chief 
Officer Group had asked that no shirts be issued 
until further notice except "emergency issue". 
Why this is one can only guess. Perhaps they are 
going to change our shirts to a different colour? 
or perhaps a cynic would say they may be changing supplier!

We have recently received e-mails informing us 
that as of Feb 09 we (All Police personnel) will 
be paid via SW1 and our pay slip will be via 
e-mail, not sent to our home addresses.  I have 
heard that SW1 have control of many Dept budgets 
and even Departments not budget controlled by SW1 
are effectively having their budgets/orders 
cancelled by Departments who issue them with 
funds. Some vehicle purchases were cancelled 
recently as funding had been withheld from the Dept requiring them at Yeovil.

I do not feel in a position to directly challenge 
the changes that are going on .......I want to 
keep my job! ,but I think I can speak for my 
colleagues, both  Police and civilian, and say we 
get the feeling there is a lot of going- on 
behind the scenes that will affect our futures.

  I would like to thank you for your concerns in 
this matter and congratulate you for bringing this issue to light.”

There is also major discontent within Unison 
members in Avon and Somerset Police.  Tempers 
reached fever pitch because so many changes were 
made so quickly without proper consultation. 
Somerset County Council found itself before an 
industrial tribunal in October 2008 for similar 
reasons. It is still unclear what SouthWest One's 
attitude to union recognition really is. IBM prefers to ignore trade unions.

Back in June the Association of Chief Police 
Officers launched a brave new procurement 
strategy to encourage forces to work together - a 
golden opportunity for Avon and Somerset to start 
selling SouthWest One to its neighbours:

moment Avon and Somerset signed up to SouthWest 
One the Police Authority produced a report 
advocating cooperation with the new company

Readers will also note a reference to the Avon 
and Somerset led programme for a new cross-force 
initiative on forensic services (See P3 
"Collaborative Working"). Natually I am as keen 
as anyone that our police forces should offer 
value for money. But I cannot help harbouring a 
scintilla of suspicion. Mr Port is now a virtual 
salesman for SouthWest One, the Chairman, Sir 
James Tidmarsh, has also been in the business of 
flogging forensic services via one of the 
companies of which he was a long-serving director:


ACPO may want to see forces cooperate. But Police 
Authorities in Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, 
Gloucestershire and Wiltshire would be well 
advised to go through the small print of SouthWest One in forensic detail.

whose finger is this then?

MORE POLICE FACTS: There are 39 police stations 
in Avon and Somerset at present. But SouthWest 
One wants to "streamline" the service. If they 
get their cost-cutting way the number of police 
stations with "inquiry desks" will fall to 19. 
The back office staff - the clerks who deal with 
the public - will be thinned out and disposed of. 
IBM have an undistinguished track record when it 
comes to the police. I invite you to read two 
accounts of their costly cock up over fingerprinting:

“The Automatic Fingerprint Recognition 
Consortium, comprising more than three-quarters 
of Britain’s police forces, has sued IBM over an 
electronic fingerprinting system they claim 
doesn’t work. The system, purchased in 1992, is 
supposed to match fingerprints taken from a crime 
scene with those on file in a database. The group 
is seeking unspecified damages from Big Blue, and 
has canceled its contract, citing ’serious and 
long-standing failures in the service.’ 
Meanwhile, IBM insists the system works, pointing 
out that more than 125,000 fingerprints have been 
matched since it was installed. IBM plans to 
fight the lawsuit. (Wall Street Journal 3/31/95 B8)”

Well the case DID go ahead..... as IBM's lawyer admits on her website:

" a highly publicised 
multi-million pound dispute regarding the 
provision of an Automatic Fingerprint Recognition 
System to a network of 37 UK police forces 
resulted in a satisfactory settlement after 20 
days in trial in the Technology and Construction Court in 1998."

IBM paid a substantial, but undisclosed sum, to settle the case quietly.


Guess who's the new Chief Executive of Avon and Somerset Police Authority?

click me to find out more

John Smith is a lawyer with a cheesy grin. He 
brokered the deal between Avon and Somerset 
Police and SouthWest One. Jobs for the boys yet again.

excuse me, is this the way to the gents?

  This is a floor plan of IBM's huge data centre in Warwick.

Soon all of Somerset's computer records will be 
dealt with and handled here. That means that your 
council tax details, your housing record, your 
children's education facts and all manner of 
sensitive information will be piped up a cable to 
IBM's base on the outskirts of the historic castle town.


Warwick is a fine place to visit. But it is not 
Somerset. And the people who created SouthWest 
One promised that the computer systems IBM was 
providing would be based in our county.

The final question is critical. By allowing IBM 
to store crucial records makes the county totally 
beholden to a commercial company. There is no 
back-up if the existing contract is ever severed.

If you want to share information with me about these or any other matters

here's how: 
<mailto:ianliddellgrainger at>ianliddellgrainger at

At 02:18 02/05/2010, Zardoz wrote:
>The Conservative-run Somerset County Council has 
>been accused of trying to sell off its core county farms estate.
>The National Farmers Union (NFU) wrote to the 
>leader of the council after three tenant farmers 
>said they were told they could not renew their leases.
>A Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate 
>accused the council of having a secret plan to sell the farms.
>The Labour candidate said he would oppose any 
>plans to sell. The council said no decision had been made.
>Tenant farmer Matthew Heal said he had received 
>an annual notice to quit his farm at Over Stowey, near Bridgwater, in March.
>The letters are sent to the farmers every year 
>when they come to the end of their tenancies.
>Mr Heal said: "Normally the letter says they are 
>going to re-let the farm and we can apply along with everybody else.
>"But this time, we've been told they aren't 
>going to decide what they're going to do with 
>the farm until after the election."
>Somerset NFU chairman Mark Pope said families 
>were in complete limbo over the future.
>Selling the farms... would make it more 
>difficult for young farmers to come into the business
>David Laws, Lib Dem candidate
>He said he had written to council leader Kenneth 
>Maddock seeking clarification about why it was 
>delaying a decision about re-letting the farms 
>and what its long term plans were for its county farms estate.
>David Laws, Lib Dem candidate for Yeovil, said 
>it seemed the Tories were "determined to keep 
>the public in the dark until after election day".
>"Selling the county farms would be a devastating 
>blow to farming in Somerset and it would make it 
>more difficult for young farmers to come into the business," he added.
>Labour candidate Lee Skevington said he would 
>oppose any move to sell off the county farms 
>estate or any other community assets.
>He said: "This seems to be yet another case of 
>the Conservatives out to make some quick cash by 
>selling off land to developers."
>'No decision'
>Tory candidate Kevin Davis said he had spoken to 
>some tenant farmers and the county council's 
>leader, who had told him there was no change in 
>policy regarding tenanted farms.
>He said while as far as he knew the farms were 
>not going to be sold, Tory policy if they were 
>was that they would be run by a community trust or residents' organisation.
>"It doesn't matter who owns the farm, it's about 
>the people who are running it," he said.
>He added he had urged farmers to start 
>negotiations over their leases a year to 
>18-months before their tenancies run out.
>A council spokesman said it was currently 
>reviewing its assets as part of an efficiency drive.
>"These assets include property, land, farms and office accommodation.
>"A report on the use of assets and any proposals 
>to use them differently will be presented to a 
>cabinet meeting in June, which will be 
>publicised and then papers will be put on our website.
>"No decision on the future of these tenancies have been made."
>The candidates for Yeovil are: British National 
>Party: Robert Baehr; Conservative: Kevin Davis; 
>Liberal Democrat: David Laws; UK Independence 
>Party: Nigel Pearson; Labour: Lee Skevington.
><mailto:tony at run 
>N Somerset council selling off core county 
>farms>Reply to sender | 
><mailto:diggers350 at 
>run N Somerset council selling off core county 
>farms>Reply to group | 
>via web post | 
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