‘Significant abuse of council overtime pay’

South Ribble Council Civic Centre, Leyland
South Ribble Council Civic Centre, Leyland

Overtime payments totalling £100,000 could have been abused at South Ribble Council in just the last few years, it has been claimed.

The shock figure follows a final internal audit report into overtime and flexitime payments at the authority.

The report – which included some stark findings – went before a meeting of the council’s governance committee on Wednesday.

Farington East councillor, Paul Wharton, who is demanding answers, said: “It’s significant abuse and a substantial amount of public money is unaccounted for.”

He was supported by councillor Paul Foster, opposition leader, who said: “Clearly there’s something wrong somewhere.

“That’s the basis of what the governance committee have said.

“Internal auditors have been trying to deal with this for over two years, Management actions haven’t been implemented and clearly it’s a real concern.

“It’s another abstract failure within the council and executive. Nowhere else would it take this long to get this right.

“It’s public money.”

He explained that the auditors’ investigation had looked at a small section of the council, which pays £100,000 a year in overtime.

Auditors said their work identified that ‘only 65 per cent of overtime claims were processed correctly and that the checks of claims were not being undertaken in a rigorous and robust manner in all instances.’

Councillor Foster said this could add up to £100,000 if the remainder of claims “are wrong”.

In January 2015, HR revised and re-launched the guidance for claiming overtime on Oracle – Payroll Guidance Notes for Employees and Guidance Notes for Authorising Officers.

This contains clear instructions regarding the information required for each claim including:

nThe date worked.

nThe position (the job the overtime was for).

nThe reason for the overtime.

nThe start and finish times for the overtime/additional hours.

Other overtime payment findings included: A review of the claims identified that the details of the claim did not clearly state the position or the reason for the over time; only three out of 65 claims contained the start and finish times; none of these claims had been rejected by the manager as required by the guidance.

When the operation of the Flexible Working Hours Scheme was previously audited in 2014/15 it was found to be open to abuse and the Head of Human Resources agreed to work with directors to resolve the issues raised by the audit.

It has been found that while some improvements have been made to the administration of the scheme and full compliance exists in some service areas, the detailed findings demonstrate that clear breaches of the corporate standards and procedures still persist in other areas.

Councillor Wharton added: “I am deeply concerned that there is yet again systematic failures being identified due to the mismanagement of this council.

“Some officers have had a complete disregard for policy, and they should be held accountable where wrongdoing can be proven.

“This is public money, and we have a duty as elected members to protect that.”

A spokesperson for South Ribble Borough Council, said: “The council continually strives for improvement and these two planned audits were undertaken to find any issues that needed addressing.

“A small number of concerns were highlighted regarding a minority of staff. In each case these were dealt with swiftly, with two members of staff being disciplined as a result of the flexitime audit findings.

“The flexitime scheme rules have been reinforced to every employee involved in the audit, as well as to all flexitime controllers who manage adjustments.

“The council is also looking at making use of additional features on the current flexitime system to streamline the service.

“Running council services is not a 9am to 5pm job, and some overtime is essential. Although there were some issues raised with the processing of overtime claims, there is no suggestion that employees claimed payment for work not carried out.

“Guidance on the rules surrounding overtime has been given to every staff member involved in the audit, as well as managers. All claims for overtime will continue to be closely monitored.

“Every recommendation in both reports has been fully accepted and actioned upon.

“It is important that all processes and procedures within the council are examined as part of an annual audit process. The council is rigorous about finding any issues and correcting them to ensure our hard-working workforce is as effective as it can be.”

The governance committee has asked auditors to re-examine the issue.