Councils can learn lessons from financial services on late payments

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The scourge of late payments is completely unnecessary, argues Keith Appleyard, nursery treasurer and formerly Head of Governance, Risk and Compliance at American Express

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Settings across the country are having to deal with delays to payments of thousands of pounds as councils struggle to cope with clunky funding systems. But it would not be unreasonable to ask your local authority ‘What if you had a similar recurrence impacting your payroll? What disaster recovery/business continuity plans do you have to address any recurrence (such as) the ability to raise BACS payments manually?’

In my case, I have adequate funds available to pay at least one week’s interim payroll on schedule lodged with two different banks, and BACS transactions supported by two different chip cards and four different chip card readers. The latter in case any battery dies at a crucial moment, rather than be held up for three business days waiting for a new card/reader to arrive.

We've executed this plan at least once in a real-life crisis. I also have enough cheques left to pay a payroll by hand.

I also don’t understand why the councils can’t respond quicker? Let’s take a fictional example, where there are 100 settings for one council, to demonstrate how this might be possible:

  • Forget about the computer system – upload them manually. Assuming 99% of payees are already registered on the banking system, uploading the payment amount manually into internet banking takes two minutes apiece.
  • Assume for security purposes only one person can have access at any one time, that’s still 200 minutes, 3-4 hours work, even if people do it in 30 minute shifts.
  • My bank account only offers me ‘faster payments’ – which is fine because it gets the money transferred in 20-60 minutes.
  • In my previous working life in the financial services industry, we would have simply asked for volunteers in the cashiers department to stay behind until the job was done – and we would have paid them. Let’s say it costs less than £100 in overtime. That's not going to send you over budget.
  • To show ‘willing’ and ‘leadership’, the boss, i.e. in this instance either the head of finance for the council, or even the chief executive, would remain behind to make the coffee and offer [genuine] encouragement.
  • So even if they don’t start it until 11am, it can be done and completed by 3pm the same day.

I bet they still managed to pay the head of finance and the chief executive on time. Maybe the new benchmark, like ‘women and children first’, should be ‘pay all your bills before you pay yourselves.’

Keith Appleyard is treasurer of Fiveways Playcentre, Brighton

  •  See our feature on late payments here
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