Council accused of not taking invoice payment times seriously

FENLAND District Council only authority in England who can’t answer FOI request on invoice payment times

But East Cambridgeshire and Cambridgeshire Country Council are the fastest payers in the East of England, Forum study concludes

Fenland was the only authority in all of England to refuse an FOI request into their invoice payment times on the grounds they didn’t collate the information.

The Forum of Private Business – a not-for-profit small business support organisation – conducted research earlier this summer to see if supplier payment times had shortened in the three years since it carried out an identical study.

The research was also to see how councils had responded to last year’s request by government that all local authorities pay supplier invoices in under 10 days.

Fenland District Council, however, was the only authority that refused to answer the FOI request. A spokesman for the council’s FOI office said they no longer recorded such data – the only council in England not to.

“That more than 300 other authorities provided some if not all of the data we asked for means Fenland are alone here,” said the Forum’s policy adviser, Robert Downes

“No other council gave this excuse, and if nothing else this shows Fenland is not taking the Government’s 10-day payment request seriously – how can it if it doesn’t even record the figures?

“Heaven alone knows what this suggests for their average payment times.

And he added: “We would question why Fenland, as an authority, does not keep this kind of data as a matter of routine anyway simply as part of best practice procedures for its financial housekeeping?”

The research carried out by the Forum found that on the whole councils across England are, on average, paying slightly more quickly in 2012 than they were in 2009. Average payment times have improved by just under half a day, the study showed.

The Forum said while the overall picture was disappointing, it did acknowledge some councils were excelling in prompt payment. East Cambridgeshire Council paid 86% of its invoices in under 10 days – the best performing authority in the East of England.

Cambridgeshire County Council was second with 84%. Mid-Suffolk was the worst regionally paying just 7% of its invoices in less than 10 days.

Added Downes: “There are a small number of councils who are well on the way to achieving the Government’s 10-day target – East Cambridgeshire and Cambridgeshire among them. Then we have the likes of Fenland who can’t or won’t tell us how they’re doing.

“In cases such as these we would like any small business who supplies Fenland to get in touch with us, in confidence, to tell us their own experiences of the authority’s payment practices – good or bad.”