Editorial: Novopay debacle hurting Government

Last updated 13:00 05/02/2013

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OPINION: The debacle over Novopay must be like a recurring nightmare for the Government.

There seems to be no end in sight, which is bad news for Prime Minister John Key, but more importantly, for teachers around the country.

Mr Key realised the seriousness of the situation when he nominated Mr Fix-it Steven Joyce as the Minster of Novopay.

With each story emerging, the sheer ineptitude of those involved appears beyond belief.

Just to recap, Australian firm Talent2 won the contract to supply software for the Ministry of Education's payroll service back in 2005. Three years later, Talent2 won an extended contract from the Labour government for hardware as well as software. The deadline was 2010 and the budget was $30 million. The deadline passed and the first signs of problems emerged when NZ Post launched the same payroll system and workers were beset with problems from Novopay.

In August last year, the Education Ministry's payroll system was finally launched and the headaches began for the Government. Errors affected over 90 per cent of schools. In November, errors continued despite repeated assurances and the ministry admitted the budget was likely to balloon to over $100m. At that time, 70 per cent of schools were still experiencing problems.

Group manager for the ministry Rebecca Elvy said Talent2 had been assessed as "the best of the vendors through comprehensive evaluation and procurement process".

The latest revelations about Novopay show just how bad the situation was. The rollout was so beset with problems it was delayed three times and almost scrapped.

The documents released state that relations between the ministry and Talent2 became more strained in the run-up to the 2012 deadline, as the firm failed to fulfil promises . Unsurprisingly, officials were investigating pulling the plug altogether, but Talent2 threatened legal action. The report advising of the 147 bugs, but not of the ministry's threat to scrap the system, was sent to Finance Minister Bill English, Education Minister Hekia Parata and then associate minister Craig Foss.

Mr Joyce conceded he did not have a high level of confidence that the system could be fixed, but that dumping Novopay wasn't the simple solution. What is, Mr Joyce?

It would not be unreasonable to assume that there would have been clauses in the contract to ensure the new payroll system, Novopay, was delivered on time and that there were no major issues with it.

More chaos is expected this week with a new secondary school teachers' collective agreement coming into play.

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Meanwhile, schools and teachers have had to soldier on with these problems. A lot of praise should go to them for the way they have handled, what is an unforgiveable situation.

A ministerial inquiry begins this week to determine who is to blame. How the Government handles that could determine how they emerge from this debacle.

- Nelson

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