Unit4 software's budget bungle leaves schools counting the cost

MP calls on council to ensure education teams can plan their financial futures

A letter from a former government minister to the head of education for one of the UK's largest local authorities reveals the financial disruption caused by the implementation of a Unit4 HR, finance, and payroll system.

According to the letter from Esher and Walton MP Dominic Raab, the troubled implementation of payroll in schools left one school unable to complete its financial accounts for three months.

He called on Clare Curran, Cabinet member for education and learning, to get a grip of the situation "so that the school is able to make appropriate plans for its financial future."

The letter, seen by The Register, confirms our reports that the new £30 million ($37.8 million) software system, which was delayed by 18 months and £3.9 million ($4.92 million) over budget, has caused financial uncertainty for at least one school and hardship for staff.

Addressing concerns about software errors at one school, Raab - a former Brexit, Foreign and Justice Secretary in UK government - said the software continued to pay staff who had left. It was also incorrectly processing new starters, which led to emergency tax and pension contributions and the withholding of overtime payments.

In January, The Register reported that Surrey County Council's payroll support desk prioritizes users who have "already had an impact on pay which has resulted in someone either receiving nil pay, a significant underpayment or has left the individual in serious financial hardship."

Minutes from Cabinet Meetings in December [PDF] last year show the chairman of the council's Resources and Performance Select Committee had serious concerns around the new ERP software – which replaced an SAP system – and the long term impacts of the project. "There were concerns that lessons were not being learnt as other IT projects were being started," he said.

Also in December, the council's resources committee heard [PDF] the strategic director admit that forecast efficiencies of £500,000 would not be achievable in the current financial year "mostly in relation to" the ERP project.

In a statement sent to The Register, a spokesperson for Surrey County Council, said:

"Following the installation of a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system last summer, we have experienced some issues relating to payroll.

"We have put in place a number of workarounds and extra resource to try to minimise the impact on staff and schools, and a dedicated technical team is working to resolve underlying issues. The recovery plan is making good progress, with the number of errors reducing significantly over time including updating leavers' processes and the school financial reporting system, and a programme of engagement clinics has also been coordinated to provide individual schools/settings with focused support.

"We are still working through some of the issues and we are grateful to our staff and schools for both their efforts and patience as we continue to do this.

"Some level of disruption was expected throughout such a fundamental transition to a new system, but we are sorry for any inconvenience to employees and schools adversely affected; our primary focus has always been the welfare of our staff as we resolve any errors, and we will continue to work with them throughout this process." ®

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