Councils are showing a huge disparity in the amount they spend on invoice document processing, with some paying 100 times more than others, according to Freedom of Information (FOI) research.
The research found that Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council spends 25p on average to process an invoice document, compared with Broadland District Council, which pays nearly £30 per document.
Among the 285 local authorities that responded to the FOI requests on behalf of document automation company Readsoft, the average document processing cost was £3.40. But a single invoice by a council’s accounts payable department should cost no more than 79p, claimed the company.
Sarah Burnett, research director for public sector business process outsourcing at NelsonHall, said the wide disparity between council spend suggests some may have answered the question in different ways.
A single invoice by a council's accounts payable department should cost no more than 79p
“My initial impression is that perhaps all haven’t answered the same question, but putting that issue aside, it seems councils need to optimise processes to the right level of automation," she said. "They also need to have the right number of staff so they are not stretched, as well as having the right system support so people have the capabilities to minimise errors.”
Councils operating under an outsourcing model appeared to be spending less per document, with Birmingham City Council spending 71p per document, Swindon 83p, and Middlesbrough Council £1.10.
“This suggests greater efficiencies for those using outsourcers,” said Burnett.
All councils should have undergone a move to automation to cut costs over the past five years, she said, but many may not be taking full advantage of these processes and may need to integrate back-end systems and adopt online self-service models.