Friday, February 08, 2008

Not now Voyager

Private Eye this week covered some of the travails that have afflicted the new all-singing, all-dancing Voyager accounts package that is currently laying Birmingham City Council low and Computer Weekly delve a little deeper.

There have been huge problems with this – authority levels within the system have meant that senior accountants are the only ones approved to order toilet paper, care home staff have had to buy food for the residents with their own money and thousands of invoices remain unpaid, to the point where the bailiffs have turned up to collect. Cllr Hemming assured the nation that this case was an exception and that the invoice was only three days overdue. Frankly, that’s complete rubbish. It is unclear whether the bailiffs were court-appointed or merely a debt collection agency, but it would not be possible to get a judgement against the council within three days of the debt being due as the process takes months – which is why it is always the last resort. Similarly, no company would throw money away on debt collection after just three days. I suspect that this may be another economy with the truth - John means that it was only three days overdue according to Voyager. As the clock only starts ticking once an invoice is entered on Voyager and there remains a backlog of thousands of invoices still to be entered, some of which are months old, the council may soon be seeing bailiffs taking walking possession of one of the shiny new gold stars awarded this week. As many companies have a clause in their standard terms and conditions saying that goods remain their property until paid for, it is not surprising that I have heard of a couple of occasions of items being removed by suppliers for non-payment
– and that’s certainly the tip of the iceberg.

Well over a quarter of a million pounds of NRF project funding hangs in the balance as spending has yet to be approved by the accounts team and if it is not completed by the end of the financial year, then these projects will lose out.

A poster on the Stirrer reports that the Computer Weekly story has one glaring inaccuracy - the helpdesk wasn't taking 48 hours to respond to problems. It was taking that time just to enter the report onto their systems, but it might take SIX WEEKS to respond to the user.

The best guess is that upwards of 30,000 invoices are outstanding – weeks of work still to be completed in the teeth of the end-of-financial year barrage that always afflicts the council. Even better news for the besieged administration is that outgoing invoices are also being delayed, so that organisations that actually owe the council money – things like commercial rent, for example – are unable to raise payment. With six weeks to the end of the financial year, this could prove more embarrassing yet for BCC. How it will fare when it takes over the wages system as well, nobody knows.

Computer Weekly adds this coda to the story
At first we had trouble getting any information at all from Birmingham City Council. It gave the impression it was one of those defensive, resticent [sic] public authorities that react to a project failure by trying to switch off all the lights in the hope nobody will see them.

In a rare moment of partial openness, though, the man in charge of transformation, Glyn Evans, who recently lectured on the subject at a conference, came partially clean to the trade paper - so bonus points to him. Would that others could learn from his example.

I'm sure Capita - the commercial partners with BCC - were paid on time, though.

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