Monday, 18 July 2011

Misleading Supplier Payments list for 2010/11 - an Open Letter to Mr Travers

Dear Mr Travers,

I write to you in your role as the Council’s Chief Financial Officer. As you may know, I take a great deal of interest in how the council spends council taxpayers’ money. As part of my scrutiny of the annual audit process I have made a number of requests for further clarification based on the Supplier Payments list posted on the Council’s website. In the past I have found a number of errors with this list but at least I believed that they were drawn from a list of supplier payments (which is only reasonable to do as they are called Supplier Payments).

As part of my review I found a number of duplicate entries on the list which suggested that payments had been made twice and which significantly alarmed me. However, I now find out that the Supplier Payments list for 2010-11 posted on the council’s website is based on a goods receipting system and not on actual payments. Not all credits were shown on this system and as a result the figures shown are unreliable. For example there are two payments for £258,153.96 listed in the Supplier Payments for August 2010 when only one payment has actually been made according to the SAP system.

I have been told that for the financial year 2011/12 all credits are being shown as well, so this should give a more accurate picture. In addition, the council is working with Logica to get a direct automated report from the SAP system (£23 million spent to date) which will show payments on a cash basis rather than an accruals basis.

I hope you understand that I find this a rather unsatisfactory situation. It is now a year since supplier payments have been listed on the website yet at no time has there been a clear statement that this data was not taken from actual payments and that is may not be reliable. It is also surprising that in that year, a suitable report programme from the SAP system has not yet been finalised.

The supplier payments list has serious significance; not only is it meant to provide transparency for council tax payers but it is picked up by a number of other bodies as a way of assessing how much is being spent with a specific supplier. I am now at a loss as to what to believe about the supplier payments list for last year as it has lost all creditability.

I would reiterate my comments made at the recent Audit Committee, that this is yet more evidence that the shift management emphasis to delivering the One Barnet Outsourcing Programme seems to have taken away the focus of getting the day to day operation of the council running properly.

Yours sincerely

John Dix


  1. That is very interesting and very shocking Mr R. I have sent numerous emails to Barnet Council that ask "The Council paid £x to suppier Y on date Z - what was the payment for" and in no reply have I been told that my understanding of the meaning of the date was incorrect.

    I think I have an FOI answer somewhere which confirms that the "Entry date" in the tables is the date of payment; I will have to find and publish it. LBB either did not know or were hiding the truth. They really are not all at competent at NLBP despite their super-sized salaries. £1,000 a day to preside over mis-information. Time to consider your position Mr Travers ?

    As a minor aside, it also makes some of my blog posts less than 100%.

  2. Mr R could you explain exactly what is a goods receipting system, and the difference to a suppliers' payment list?
    Many thanks,
    Confused of Broken Barnet

  3. Mrs A I am not fully sure myself but this is my basic understanding. Where an organisation received goods, say 100 reams of paper, when they are delivered with a delivery note this is entered into the goods receipting system. This allows the organisation to understand its accrued liabilities until the invoice is received and the actual payment is made. With Barnet council many of the goods received are actually services so as I understand the situation, what happens is that sometimes people enter the value of the purchase order on to the goods receipting system because there is no delivery note for a service. The trick is to then credit back those good receipts when the invoice is received and this is what was sometimes missing from the payments list. Now this may be completely wrong but if there is anyone reading from Barnet council who would like to give a more accurate description it would be most welcome.

  4. ... then this seems to be an idiotic system: have I misunderstood? Is this common practice in local authorities elsewhere?