Ministry accepts Novopay blame

By John Lewis

Novopay Minister Steven Joyce, right, with acting Secretary of Education Peter Hughes, at the release of the Ministerial inquiry into Novopay. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Novopay Minister Steven Joyce, right, with acting Secretary of Education Peter Hughes, at the release of the Ministerial inquiry into Novopay. Photo / Mark Mitchell

While the Ministry of Education has admitted it got it wrong on many aspects of the Novopay debacle and apologised for the hurt caused, many principals say the real impact may never be known.

The ministerial inquiry into the failure of Novopay, released yesterday, has called the Ministry of Education's leadership into question, with two senior staff members facing an employment investigation for errors of judgement and wrong decisions.

The new payroll system was launched in August 2012, but issues surfaced almost immediately as teachers and school staff across the country were left underpaid, overpaid or unpaid.

The inquiry found reporting to ministers had been "inconsistent, at times unduly optimistic and sometimes misrepresented the situation".

It also found the ministry was not always willing to take advice, and at times demonstrated "misplaced optimism" about the state of the project.

Acting Secretary for Education Peter Hughes accepted all the findings and recommendations of the inquiry that related to the ministry, and was already acting on recommendations.

"The report has identified a number of failures over the course of the project, from the requirements stage through to post 'go live'.

"There were also errors of judgement and wrong decisions. There is accountability for individuals and there will be an employment investigation with regard to two staff."

Mr Hughes said that a team had worked hard on the modern payroll system, but their efforts fell well short because the ministry did not have the skills, processes and governance for a project of its scale and complexity.

He also agreed Government ministers were not served well by some of the advice and reporting they received, and believed it was "unacceptable".

He personally apologised to them, and schools who he said had been "badly let down".

"... I deeply regret that. They deserved much better."

Although the report found Novopay had cost "materially more than estimated", Mr Hughes said the extra expense had been necessary to fix the system.

He said the stability of Novopay was increasing and work was continuing with Talent2 to make sure it was maintained.

"The leadership team is in no doubt about what is required. I will be driving the change and the leadership team will collectively own it.

"This has been a very regrettable chapter for the ministry, but does not derail the tremendous amount of really good work done by staff throughout the country."

Otago Secondary Principals' Association chairman Rick Geerlofs said the debacle had destroyed the sector's faith in the ministry and Novopay, and he believed it would take a long time to regain it.

"The issues around Novopay have caused a great deal of stress and additional work for schools and their administration staff.

"This has taken them away from their regular duties, and the real impact of this changeover may never really be known."

He said there had been many difficult conversations with staff, who, quite rightly, had been upset and stressed with a system that was "clearly not ready to roll out".

"During that time there was a complete lack of confidence in the reports schools were receiving and any assistance given.

"It is good to hear that the ministry accepts all of the findings of the inquiry, and that lessons have been learnt.

"While there does appear to be some improvement in recent times, it will take some time for that confidence to return after nine months of uncertainty," he said.

- Otago Daily Times

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