A perfect botch

The Government taking over management of the flawed Novopay payroll system is welcome as it finally provides the opportunity for meaningful progress to be made after two shambolic years of heartbreak, frustration and inconvenience.

Major action to fix the fundamentally flawed pay system, and hold its Australian provider Talent2 to account, is long overdue.

The saga reads like a ''how-not-to'' catalogue of errors from the beginning. Talent2 was signed to deliver an outsourced payroll service for the education department by the then Labour government in 2008.

The launch of Novopay was delayed twice because of problems but was finally approved to go live in August 2012 by National's Education Minister Hekia Parata, Associate Education Minister Craig Foss and Finance Minister Bill English on a Ministry of Education recommendation, despite testing which showed 147 software defects and 6000 errors.

Problems emerged with the first pay round and have continued since. They have included non-payments, overpayments and underpayments both ongoing and compounding.

Administrators have had to work overtime and schools have employed others to keep on top of errors. Staff have spent hours trying to contact helplines, and some schools have footed increased bills as a result of paying staff from their own funds.

The stress, cost and frustration have affected many thousands of teaching staff and administrators nationwide, and in some cases the errors impacted on the abilities of individuals to pay mortgages and bills.

The Government considered whether to continue with the system or revert to the previous provider, Datacom, before deciding to stick with it, but problems continued. In January 2013, Government ''fix-it'' minister Steven Joyce was given responsibility for Novopay.

He ordered a technical review of the system, the findings of which were released in June 2013 just after a $6 million Government support package was announced for affected education staff.

The review found the system could be fixed but needed greater effort from Talent2 and the Ministry of Education to do so; and that core software platforms were not stable because of a backlog of issues related to the high degree of customisation of the system and inadequate quality assurance processes which allowed incorrect data to be entered.

Mr Joyce has been trumpeting the ''progress being made'' card since then, but education staff have still faced problems, along with a backlog of historical ones, and are still putting their own time and money into dealing with them.

While there is relief the Government has taken over management of Novopay, there is still much anger over the handling of the problems, the implementation of the system, and the contract with Talent2, which it seems has been unwilling or unable to make any further changes to the system.

The handover includes financial settlements of $18 million and $22 million, and licensing the core software to the new Government-owned company.

But the taxpayer has predominantly had to foot the bill, with Talent2's sum paling in comparison with the $45 million the Government has paid to fix the system, over and above the $110 million development and implementation price tag.

Many will think Talent2 has still not really been held to account for its fundamental failure to deliver, despite the ministry promising it would do so, and the Government has been certainly been left with egg on its face.

Whether the takeover can offer the overhaul needed and fix the problems remains to be seen. But it does send a message - at long last - to long-suffering teachers, principals and other staff that the Government has realised enough is enough and it needs to take responsibility.

That it should have taken this long for meaningful action is unacceptable, and something education staff are not likely to forget in a hurry, particularly as they continue to foot bills themselves and wonder whether any negotiations should have involved further and considerable compensation for their costs in the whole chaotic affair.


Add a Comment