EDINBURGH city council has been labelled “ridiculous” after overpaying staff an eyewatering £700,000 of public money during the last two years.
A top council officer has admitted that not all of the lost money, which could pay the chief executive’s salary for four years, is likely to be recouped by the council.
Opposition councillors have hit out at the failures and called for action to ensure the problems do not happen again.
The council’s director of resources, Stephen Moir, said: “We have sought to reclaim the totality of the sum. It is unlikely we will achieve 100 per cent recovery.
“There may be some specific circumstances where individual reclaim action might be counter-intuitive for the council. Following up with court action might actually be more costly than the sum to be recovered. We need to make sure there’s a value for money judgement as well as a risk management one taken.”
Mr Moir said that a new human resources system, which went live last month, will ensure the payroll systems are more effective.
He added: “We have an unduly complicated set of pay arrangements with a whole range of variable payments and something like 5,000 individual shift patterns in operation across the organisation – that makes our payroll unduly complex to administer.”
The majority of the overpaid money relates to current employees.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Kevin Lang said: This is a significant sum of taxpayers’ money which the director now admits is highly unlikely to be recouped in full by the council. Given the pressures on council budgets, which is affecting even basic services, every penny counts.
“Every effort now needs to be made to recoup as much money as possible. It is even more important to ensure the issues which led to these overpayments are addressed so this cannot happen again.”
Green Cllr Melanie Main said: “£700,000 is a lot of money which could be used for so many other things from providing school materials to improving parks to supporting older people – every penny counts.
“On the one hand, it is good that council processes have detected the overpayments and that action is being taken to recover them. On the other hand, it’s disappointing that systems have not prevented overpayments in the first place. So clearly, there is work to do to make sure that all payments made by the council are exactly in line with what is due.”
Conservative Cllr Phil Doggart said: “It is ridiculous that the council has failed to have processes in place for the payment of money to the correct people. It is hard to believe that any organisation in the 21st century has failed to establish such procedures.
“Council tax payers will be disgusted at this wanton waste of £700,000 of public money. It is disappointing that for the second month in a row, HR failings at the council have been highlighted.”
The council said around £213,000 had been recovered so far.
A City of Edinburgh Council spokeswoman said: “We have an established and well tested debt recovery policy in place for all debts owed to the council, including payroll overpayments, where these occur. We take all appropriate actions necessary to recover overpayments.”