EXCLUSIVE: Cornish businesses at risk of losing millions because of County Hall computer glitch

Posted By on 23rd October 2022

By Graham Smith

Millions of pounds which are supposed to be invested in Cornish businesses are at risk because of another computer malfunction at Cornwall Council.

The government has set a deadline of 31st October for the first tranche of applications to Cornwall’s £132 million Shared Prosperity Fund.

Many firms completed their initial inquiry forms and sent them to County Hall in good time.  But a fault with the council’s “Good Growth” website meant that applications sent between 7th and 20th October were never received by officials who were supposed to assess them.

The council is now urgently trying to alert businesses which have not had a reply and do not know if their applications are being processed.

County Hall has appealed to its 87 councillors for help in making contact with any local businesses in their divisions which they suspect might have applied.

The government’s timetable was always tight and had caused concern to County Hall officials, who feared they lacked the capacity to undertake proper assessments and background checks.  Now the loss of two weeks, with a deadline only eight days away, is causing panic.

“It’s another SNAFU,” one councillor told Cornwall Reports.  “It’s exhausting.  We just stagger from one crisis to the next.

“How could we go for two weeks without noticing that the computer was broken?”

It is the second time in three months that computer problems have put millions of pounds at risk in Cornwall.

In July the council’s bid for “Levelling Up” funds ran into a glitch with a government computer.  Whitehall had insisted that applications had to be made online, only to discover that councils all over the country had been unable to make their submissions.

On that occasion the government simply extended its deadline.  But this time the problem is made in Cornwall and there is no reason to think Whitehall will allow more time.

Detailed assessments and background checks are essential to prevent fraud.  Two years ago Cornwall Council feared it had paid £8 million in Covid grants to small businesses which were “probably” bogus.

Cornwall Council’s portfolio holder for the economy, councillor Louis Gardner, has apologised for the latest computer blunder, which he called “a technical glitch.”  The “Good Growth” website is now working again but County Hall has no way of knowing how many applications have been lost, or their potential value.

The council’s latest computer problems come at a time when County Hall is embarked upon a £27 million “digital first” policy intended to replace many workers with robots.  Earlier this year the ruling Conservative administration boasted of making Cornwall “the Silicon Valley” of the UK.

"Let's gamble millions on tech - what could possibly go wrong?"  Cornwall Council is now finding out.  The latest "glitch" could be very expensive for local businesses

But in 2020 the council had to admit that its “Oracle” computer system had made hundreds of payroll mistakes.

Not content with sometimes refusing to “speak” to Whitehall computers, County Hall’s tech is not even compatible with the Corserv group of companies, making it even more difficult to scrutinise what those companies are doing and whether they deliver value for money.