Staff surprised by decision to approach IBM

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The Independent Online
SIR Robin Buchanan was responsible for one of the most disturbing conflicts of interest highlighted by our investigation.

Shortly after becoming chairman of Wessex, he asked IBM to second to him a senior project manager to run the Regional Information Systems Plan (RISP). The decision surprised many of his staff: IBM was one of the authority's biggest suppliers and was negotiating a contract to supply a new main-frame computer.

Sir Robin admitted last week that he had personally approached IBM. He added: 'I did what I believed was sensible.' IBM recommended Harry Tuffill. According to a letter from David Livermore, a senior executive at IBM, to Sir Robin on 29 November 1988, Mr Tuffill would 'report back to you . . . and enable our two organisations to work more closely together'.

At a regional health authority meeting on 12 July 1989, it was revealed that IBM was also supplying two consultants to work in the districts to 'maintain the momentum' of RISP. They were to be paid pounds 14,000 each per month.

In March 1989, the month of Mr Tuffill's secondment, senior managers decided to buy the IBM computer as part of the RISP programme. According to the da Costa report this decision was taken without reference to Sir Robin or health authority members. Later, Sir Robin asked IBM to review the need for the computer. It reported that Wessex needed a bigger machine.

IBM won the contract without any competitive tender. The computer cost pounds 3.3m. It could have been bought second-hand for less than pounds 2m. Mr Tuffill should have known this. By the time it was finally put to work it had declined in value by at least pounds 2.3m. For several months, there was an option to cancel the order. Sir Robin knew of it. The members of the health authority were never informed. The confidential report argues that the purchase therefore had no legal authority. It was also doubtful that the region needed the computer at all.

But Mr Tuffill, who worked for Wessex until October 1990, told Sir Robin according to the report, that it would be 'stupid' to cancel the order.