Leeds council bosses have admitted huge resources are potentially being wasted investigating invoices from suppliers who the authority has no visible record of placing an order from.
Concerns were raised by an internal Leeds council watchdog yesterday as it considered a progress report on efforts to “improve how we work and save money” and wide ranging plans to get the council spending taxpayers’ cash more “wisely”.
The strategy and resources scrutiny panel heard that the council’s business support centre processes around 250,000 invoices per year, something that requires the equivalent of 12 full-time staff.
A report to the cross party panel said: “We receive a large number of invoices that require special additional processing.
“Some of these ‘query’ invoices are received where we have no record of making an order.
“We must then spend officer time investigating what has happened before we can make payment.”
Conservative councillor Dan Cohen blamed the council’s internal processes and its apparent failure to engage with digital invoicing. “If this was November 2000 it would be fantastic,” he said of new efforts to streamline services. But we are 15 years behind the curve. This notion of invoices without a number...this is not rocket science, it’s absolutely basic.”
He added that although any untoward activity “I am sure is something that would never happen”, he warned that “without the proper controls, it could”.
Councillor Neil Buckley urged department bosses to “be a little firmer” - and insist on suppliers doing the work themselves instead of wasting council officer time and resource.
Leeds City Council’s deputy chief executive Doug Meeson admitted there were “difficulties”, partly fuelled by concerns among some colleagues that the authority had “underinvested” in some of its ICT.
He added: “I fully accept that there is too much paper. Getting a better grip on that would be a part of how we move forward.”
Responding to suggestions that the council should introduce a stricter, hardline policy of no invoice being paid or even processed without an order number being presented, he said he was “more than happy” to get support implementing a “no order, no pay” policy.
However he insisted any fears of fraudulent activity were unfounded.
“I don’t want you to think [the problem invoices] are not legitimate,” he told the panel.
“The vast majority are proper invoices for goods that have been supplied to the council.
“We are not just spending money without knowing that the goods and services have been supplied.”