A senior official whose efforts to introduce electronic payment of bills at Birmingham City Council led to a backlog of 30,000 unpaid invoices and resulted in bailiffs demanding payment from the local authority is blaming the media.
Brendan Arnold said newspaper headlines and articles about difficulties with the Voyager IT system made matters worse and contributed to a three-month delay in getting the system back on track.
At one point following the introduction of Voyager in October, finance officers were reduced to writing cheques by hand after the electronic scanning system failed to work. Hundreds of suppliers, many small traders, went unpaid and bailiffs attempted to enter a council neighbourhood office demanding rental payments.
In his annual review of the business transformation project, which aims to save the council £858 million over 10 years, Mr Arnold admitted the challenges of implementing Voyager had been “significantly underestimated”.
Users and council suppliers took much longer than expected to become familiar with the system and staff had to be given additional training, he said.
Mr Arnold conceded installation difficulties were triggered by an “unrealistic planned completion date for a solution on the scale and complexity of Voyager”.
In his report Mr Arnold said: “The consistent use of purchase order numbers by suppliers, the handling of price and quantity variances by Central Payments and authorisers in directorates, disciplines of running maintenance processes in Voyager to clear price and quantity variances, and understanding the difference between rejecting and referring an invoice were cause for concern.
“These led to a growing backlog of invoices for approval in the directorates and invoices blocked for payment in Central Income.
"Unfortunately, these issues were picked up in the local press which became an unhelpful diversion for stakeholders, users and the Customer Services Transformation (CST) team alike.”
Mr Arnold, corporate director of finance soon to leave for a top job with the Government, said Voyager and the CST project were on course to deliver £55 million of savings this year.
His report reveals consultants hired by Service Birmingham, the organisation led by private outsourcing company Capita which is responsible for delivering CST, will be paid £74.6 million over a decade. Other costs include £10 million for IT licences, £5 million for software and £1.4 million for staff training.
Last week, the Audit Commission, in a highly critical study, accused the council of being over-reliant on consultants to deliver business transformation and of having no proper plan to reduce costs.
The report said council leadership displayed a “lack of realism” about the difficulty of delivering savings from new IT systems and was too dependent on a small number of senior officials.
In his report, Mr Arnold pledged: “We will simplify, optimise and standardise the accounting process and reporting of financial performance to provide more accurate, complete and up-to-date financial information, improve fiscal discipline and more efficient use of resources.
“Our employees will benefit from easier access to more transparent, up to date and complete financial information, improve fiscal discipline and rescue the time spent on routine accounting.”