17th Dec, 2017

Finance fiasco: Lessons will be learned say education chiefs

Rob George 4th Dec, 2017

COUNTY education chiefs have vowed to learn lessons from the introduction of a new finance system which left some schools unable to pay their staff on time.

Worcestershire County Council revealed the findings of a report into the failings of the authority’s new Mercury HR and Finance Services and Systems.

A ‘post implementation review’ into the system, which was rolled out across Worcestershire in April, found the project had ‘severely disrupted the service’ with significant issues for staff.

Among the issues raised in the report was a failure to fully engage with the county’s schools about the introduction of the system and a no attempt to correct critical issues when they first emerged.

Critically, the report also revealed there were ‘significant issues’ for users which should have ensured the launch was postponed until the systems were properly ready.

The project had been aimed at introducing a ‘new, more efficient system for HR and finance for around 16,000 council employees, maintained schools and academies’.

Since publication of the report County Hall has introduced a ‘100 Day Programme’ to correct the system’s issues.

Coun Karen May, cabinet member responsible for Transformation and Commissioning said: “The launch of the new systems was long overdue. It was an ambitious project that went live on time and on budget.

“But there were issues and I apologise for the inconvenience the move has caused.

“I have brought in industry experts to review the implementation and I can assure you lessons will be learnt.”

Instead of saving the authority money and introducing greater efficiency the opposite had happened, according to Labour’s Coun Robin Lunn who first raised the matter during a council meeting on November 9.

“Staff were turning up for training and the manuals would not be ready – the online instructions would tell them to refer to a work book that wasn’t printed or to keys that weren’t on their keyboards.

“And this is a critical issue for schools – if the system does not work coherently how can they pay contractors, how can they fix their budgets?”

He also said it was unknown how much they council had spent putting right a system introduced to save it money.

“When you contract out to save money and you end up spending more because the system does not work then it is important to find out what the costs have been and I will not rest until we find out,” said Coun Lunn.

“This is a huge embarrassment for the council and it has all been ideologically driven.

“If you are introducing an external system then it needs to be bulletproof but what we have ended up with is not fit for purpose and even Bill Gates would struggle to sort it out.”

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