Northumberland County Council covers a large, rural district. The council is a unitary authority formed in 2009 when six authorities merged into one after the Local Government Act, making it the fifth largest in the UK.
Its thousands of employees, including a small number of firefighters and NHS staff, have access to the local authority’s expense claims service.
This system handles around 1500 claims per month, has improved mileage claim accuracy, enables strict expenses policy enforcement and enhances governance and approval procedure.
Northumberland’s expense claims system was not always this efficient – incorrect claims led to monetary losses, while a lack of integration between policies and systems meant rules surrounding expenses were not always followed.
A service which enforced policies such as reimbursing the shortest, not necessarily quickest, route and eliminating complicated calculations was required.
The local authority also wanted to implement better governance over expenses and give the system’s users more choice.
“Our previous system did not link with our corporate policy leaving it open to interpretation. For example, for staff travelling from home to multiple remotes sites and back to their usual place of work, removing the mileage between home and the usual place of work from their claim was confusing and difficult,” claimed the council’s transactions manager Derek Brown.
“It would lead to errors and over-claiming, identified as part of manual auditing process,” he added.
Brown also explained how the previous claims system required employees to be physically present in the office with access to a PC. As many staff are not office based, nor do they have computer access, this naturally made claiming expenses an arduous process.
Northumberland brought workflow management provider Software Europe in to help develop a more time and cost efficient expenses solution.
This was part of the council’s wider procurement drive which goes much wider than just the expense claims programme.
The supplier introduced its Expenses cloud service to the local authority to replace the existing module within its back-office IT system.
The aim was to stop employees having to read pages of documents when wanting to make a claim by building a system where all necessary information was embedded and able to provide more assurance.
Brown says the new system is much more accurate and has lowered costs. Approximately 80% of claims are mileage related, but the improved service means the tricky calculations are done automatically, leading to improved accuracy and less money wasted on incorrect claims.
“The new service is much better, with the policy integrated to the system employees have clear visibility about what they can and can’t claim for, we’re eradicating claim errors at the point of submission and cutting costs by reducing over-claiming,” he claimed.
Brown praised the good working partnership his organisation has with Software Europe, saying they were responsive to Northumberland’s needs and able to roll the new system out successfully under a tight deadline.
Next steps for the project involve a rollout to schools in the area, analysing the cost savings achieved and enhancing the mobile technology available.