The company managing school finances on behalf of Lincolnshire County Council has apologised for a host of blunders but insists it is “fully committed to putting things right”.
Global outsourcing company Serco signed a £70 million five-year contract with the county council to deliver back office functions in March 2014.
Serco began its contract from April 2015, but the service has been beset by problems, including unpaid bills to suppliers and undersized pay packets for county council employees.
School finances have been particularly affected by the contract, with staff wages unpaid after payments were missed.
Teachers and representatives from 40 different schools in Lincolnshire met with Sean Hanson, Managing Director of Serco’s Citizen Services business, on April 12 to raise their concerns.
Following the meeting, Hanson said: “It is clear that many schools are unhappy with the service they are currently receiving, still have issues and are rightly frustrated and angry that things are taking much longer to resolve than anticipated.
“While we have made progress, clearly more needs to be done and we are fully committed to putting things right.
We know schools want action not words, so have promised to contact all those at the meeting to discuss their issues in greater detail and answer their questions.
“More broadly, and based on feedback, we will work with the council to further improve our communications and the training available to all schools, as well as provide them with a clear timetable as to when they will be able to run improved financial reports and see further system improvements.
“We have also asked for more volunteers to join our Schools Portfolio working group, which provides a regular forum to resolve outstanding issues and also acts as a sounding board for future engagement and innovation.
“Once again, we apologise for the disruption the new system has caused and urge any school or individual still experiencing HR, payroll or supplier payment problems to get in touch with us directly so we can help them.
“Issues relating to school finance should be referred to the Schools Finance Team within the council.”
“Shouldn’t have happened”
Ken Rustidge, NUT Division Leader for Lincolnshire, said that he welcomed Serco’s apology.
He said: “This shouldn’t have happened in the first place but we are where we are now.
I don’t know where we would be without the fantastic county council officers who have resolved a lot of the problems for people in a helpful and professional way.
“We never seemed to have problems like this in the past and in times of financial difficulty I think it’s best to sort any issues ‘in house’ and not outsource them to private companies who may not even be based in the county.
“But it’s up to the county council to decide how to progress and the good people of Lincolnshire will judge them by their results.”
County council happy with progress
Lincolnshire County Council has claimed that Serco is making progress in sorting out any remaining issues.
Judith Hetherington Smith, Chief Information Officer at the county council, said: “Serco are making progress in resolving the difficulties implementing the new finance system, and we are working closely with them to monitor this and ensure they deliver their outstanding commitments.
“We will keep this under review to ensure that this remains the most sensible approach.
“There are service credits built into our contract with Serco. If the performance does not meet the levels we have set, we invoke these service credits and when this occurs we do not pay the full contract price each month.”