Congleton: Claims school staff quitting jobs because of sub-par tech

By Belinda Ryan - Local Democracy Reporter

1st Dec 2022 | Local News

Congleton: It has been claimed Cheshire East education workers are quitting positions because of sub-par IT systems.
Congleton: It has been claimed Cheshire East education workers are quitting positions because of sub-par IT systems.

School staff are quitting their jobs because of the stress caused by a problematic computer system brought in to make Cheshire East more efficient, a councillor said.

The Best4Business project, which was designed to replace the ageing business IT systems with a new cloud-based network at both Cheshire East and Cheshire West & Cheshire councils, has had issues from the outset and is massively over-budget.

As reported in May of this year, it caused chaos in some schools, with reports of thousands of pounds being taken from one school budget to pay staff it didn't employ, and also resulted in teachers' pensions not being paid.

Both councils have recently held a review of the system to see what lessons can be learned.

But, according to Cheshire East councillor Patrick Redstone, the problems still persist.

"These failures have not gone away and I believe that these problems are being experienced by other members of the council's staff as well," the Odd Rode councillor told a meeting of Cheshire East's audit and governance committee.

"When will this be sorted out so our employees, particularly those who have to implement this system, stop having to put up with the stress this system is causing them and which, I believe in schools particularly, is causing finance officers, business managers and others involved in it to leave their posts claiming stress."

He added that some schools 'have failed to sign their accounts off because they have doubts about their veracity'.

Alex Thompson, director of finance and customer service at Cheshire East, said there was ongoing liaison between the council's support and finance teams and with the local schools.

He said he believed all issues were being reported through that route and were being addressed.

Cllr Redstone (Con) asked for work be done on this particular piece of software – referred to as unit four – 'because it obviously is not fit for purpose at this present time'.

Speaking this week, Cllr Redstone told the LDRS that when problems were solved others seemed to crop again if more information was input into the system.

"They complain and eventually that's fixed," he said. "And then, say somebody goes sick for example, their sick pay is incorrect or they either don't get paid, or they end up owing money, so they make a complaint and the same thing happens. It takes a long time for the complaint to be sorted out and it keeps on re-occurring."

When Best4Business was launched in 2016, at a time when Cheshire West was under Labour control and Cheshire East was under a Conservative administration, the joint project was expected to cost £11.8m.

That has now rocketed to more than £25.1m due to delays and disagreements, along with the project essentially having to be restarted after both councils took over implementation from the developer.

The eventual cost could be even higher, as a report to a meeting of the corporate policy committee in October stated a final figure would be provided later in 2022/23.

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