School principals lack confidence in payroll project fix

72.7% of school principals in New Zealand have no confidence that the new school payroll system, Novopay, is on track to become fit for purpose after the error rate spikes once more.
Written by Rob O'Neill, Contributor

Months of remedial work under the direct supervision of top Government fix-it man Steven Joyce have not been enough to restore confidence in New Zealand's new Novopay school payroll system,

New Zealand school principals report Novopay still struggles to deliver accuracy and that remains a cause of huge frustration.

Steven Joyce

A survey by the New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF) of 714 school principals showed that on average 5.89 staff per school were incorrectly paid in the latest pay period and two thirds of schools still have unresolved problems from last year.

Worse, 72.7% of principals have no confidence that Novopay is on track to provide an effective payroll tool.

"We always expect the first pay round of the year to be a bit challenging, but this error rate is way beyond anything we imagined," said Philip Harding NZPF President.

"We cannot ignore this direct feedback from schools, which tells us that the Novopay saga is far from over."

The survey comes after the Government reported progress towards fixing the troubled system, implemented by Australian company Talent 2.

The Minister responsible for Novopay, Steven Joyce, released the reports on complaints and notifications received during pay periods 22 and 23 of the schools’ payroll.

The report for pay period 22 showed complaints and notifications were received regarding 0.18 per cent of staff across the country, 13 staff were notified as not paid, 60 were overpaid, and 34 underpaid. Affected staff were from 68 schools or 2.77 per cent of schools in the payroll system.

However, that appeared to worsen in the next period.

In pay period 23 complaints and notifications were received regarding 0.69 per cent of staff across the country, 234 staff were notified as not paid, 107 were overpaid, and 175 underpaid. Affected staff were from 268 schools or 11.07 per cent of schools in the payroll system.

“The performance of pay period 23 was not as good as we’ve recently been experiencing," Joyce said. "The result has us slightly above the 0.5 per cent acceptable steady state error level as defined by the Novopay technical review last year.

"This is the first time we have been above that level since the beginning of April last year (21 pay periods ago)."

Joyce said indications were that there were no particular software error.

"It appears at this stage to be due to a range of data entry errors," he said, apologising to those affected.

“The pay period 23 result underlines the high level of complexity of the education payroll end of year/start of year processes in which considerable administrative changes need to be made.

"The New Zealand education payroll is the most complex in New Zealand and more work remains to be done to simplify the business processes to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible each year. This work and completing outstanding work on leave balances are the early priorities this year." 

Harding said the Government has poured millions of dollars into patching and propping up a payroll system "that continues to let schools down, when it was supposed to create significant savings."

“The unbudgeted costs associated with this debacle must be eye watering.”

Principals, he said, want to know when the Government will finally acknowledge that Novopay can’t be fixed and start work on its replacement.

A report released last July showed the project was then NZ$23.9 million over budget for a total cost of NZ$56.8 million.

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