Concerns expressed over the future of payroll services at Lincolnshire County Council

Councillors have expressed concerns about who will be running support services for Lincolnshire County Council from 2020.

Council officers have recommended entering into a shared service arrangement with Herefordshire County Council for payroll and HR administration through its wholly-owned supplier Hoople.

Hoople would also be used for the council’s access to the Business World On! system (known previously as Agresso) for finance functions.

Lincolnshire County Council is three years into a five year contract with Serco worth £70 million to deliver IT, finance and HR services, as well as taking over the authority’s customer services centre.

Councillors on the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board indicated ‘qualified support’ for the shared service agreement with Hoople at a meeting in Lincoln on Thursday, April 26.

Several concerns were highlighted about the geographical distance between the two counties, the amount of trained payroll staff available, and the council’s overall control of the contract.

Concerns were also raised in the meeting that an audit of Hoople in 2017-18 had found that the overall level of assurance for payroll was ‘reasonable’.

Councillor Robert Parker, chairman of the board, said: “When I get on a plane, I want to have more than a reasonable chance of surviving.

“We in Lincolnshire have a population of 743,000. Herefordshire has a population of 189,000. Is there a danger that we will overwhelm them?

“Herefordshire has no experience of any fire service payroll. I’m concerned. I just wonder what the Fire Brigades Union will think about this.

“How are we going to deal with proximity between Herefordshire and Lincoln?”

Councillor Jackie Brockway, Conservative member for Nettleham and Saxilby, also added her doubts about the potential arrangement.

She said: “Is Herefordshire aware of what’s going on with our IT before they take us on? We have significant problems.”

Conservative Councillor Mark Whittington, who represents Grantham Barrowby, said: “I need reassurance that Hoople could scale up and get enough trained staff.

“The fire issue and the location proximity issue concern me. There are risks with this. Does Herefordshire know about our IT issues?

“It makes sense to go with Hoople but the road will be full of potholes.”

Members were also keen to avoid making similar mistakes as with the Serco contract.

Serco was forced to apologise just eight months into its contract after errors in paying teachers and other public sector workers.

In 2016, the company once again apologised to teachers after meeting with employees from 40 different schools in the county.

Global auditors KPMG were tasked with reviewing the award of the contract and implementation of Serco’s Agresso finance system in June 2016, which revealed overpayments of around £1 million to council staff.

The situation became so chaotic that Lincolnshire County Council fined Serco more than £1 million for poor performance.

In summary, Councillor Parker, Labour member for Carholme in Lincoln, said: “Will we have sufficient control like we have with Serco? We could impose financial penalties with them for poor performance.

“If this starts to go wrong, where do we stand? Are we in the driving seat?

“Given some of the recommendations we have heard, the best we can do is a qualified support for this as we do have some concerns.”

Comments made in the meeting will be passed to the Executive, who will then make a decision.

Any decision will be subject to further due diligence work and a satisfactory agreement with Herefordshire County Council.

Stefan Pidluznyj , Local Democracy Reporting Service