Staff who failed to turn up at courses to learn how to use Birmingham City Council’s new computer system have forced the local authority to spend £100,000 on organising additional training sessions.
Managers had to arrange 187 new sessions explaining the complexities of the Voyager IT programme, which introduced fully electronic payment of millions of council invoices, after hundreds of employees missed courses they had been told to attend.
The new system attracted severe criticism when it was introduced last October, with a backlog of unpaid bills quickly rising to 30,000.
Finance staff were reduced to writing cheques by hand, suppliers threatened to send in bailiffs while some firms boycotted the council until they were paid.
Council leaders blamed a glitch in the computer software which they said made it difficult to scan invoices. But it has been confirmed that low attendance at Voyager training sessions made the problems worse.
The additional courses, organised between October and December, eventually enabled 10,000 members of staff to be trained.
Finance scrutiny committee members heard that senior officials were apparently powerless to force staff to attend the training sessions.
Brendan Arnold, director of corporate finance, said: "With the benefit of hindsight it would have been my preference that the directorates were able to enforce attendance.
"But you have to accept in any organisation there will always be reasons why people cannot attend. People are sick and on annual leave.
"There is an awful lot of change going on across the organisation at the moment and decisions have to be made very quickly. Sometimes in directorates it may be training is not the top priority."
He accepted the transfer to Voyager had raised "painful" issues which put the council in a bad light.
One of the difficulties involved suppliers sending in invoices on "tatty bits of paper" which could not then be scanned into the computer system. But the long term benefits of paying invoices electronically are expected to produce savings of £280 million over 10 years.
Mr Arnold said most of the Voyager problems had been ironed out.
The backlog of invoices has fallen to about 7,000, substantially lower than average levels before Voyager was installed.
Mr Arnold added: "By the end of March we will have driven this down to a very low level indeed. There will be a very small number of unprocessed items."
Committee members were shocked to learn that the corporate finance department lacked the powers to make sure staff were trained.
Councillor John Cotton (Lab Oscott) said: "We have a new system here that caused significant embarrassment when it went wrong yet there is an issue about people going along to learn how to operate the new system.
"When I used to work for a bank there was no question about going for training. You went, or you were shown the door."
Committee chairman Councillor Alistair Dow (Lib Dem Selly Oak) said: "People must attend training courses. If they cannot, and have a good reason for not attending, then they must make arrangements to change the date for their training.
"If staff cannot use the new system properly because they haven’t been trained, then that just causes embarrassment."