Schools

Birmingham withdraws schools from £100m IT system

Heads were unable to make financial plans as glitches left them waiting months to learn the size of their budgets

Heads were unable to make financial plans as glitches left them waiting months to learn the size of their budgets

An IT system that left leaders unable to plan budgets and threatened with bailiffs because of unpaid bills will be withdrawn from schools in Birmingham.

Birmingham City Council introduced an adapted version of the Oracle finance and HR platform in April 2022.

But the system was fraught with issues and costs ballooned to £100 million, five times the original budget. The authority has since declared itself effectively bankrupt.

Headteachers were unable to make financial plans as the IT glitches left them waiting several months to learn the size of their budgets.

They were also forced to fork out debt-recovery costs and were threatened with bailiffs as bills remained unpaid.

But senior city councillors have now voted to move primary and secondary schools on to an alternative system in September next year,

Pepe Di’lasio, the general secretary of ASCl, said it was important lessons were learned from “this fiasco” so schools were never again put in such a difficult position.

School faced bailiffs threat

An investigation by Grant Thornton in December revealed more than 8,000 issues were logged in the six months after the Oracle system was launched across the council.

During a Birmingham schools forum meeting that year, primary governor Pam Garrington blamed problems associated with the system for leaving headteachers with late-payment bills.

Nigel Attwood, the head of Bellfield Junior School, said one supplier “threatened to send bailiffs”.

Shortly after revealing the final cost to “fully implement” the platform would be about £100 million, Birmingham issued a section 114 notice, meaning it could not meet its financial liabilities.

During a cabinet meeting last month, Councillor Roger Harmer branded the system a “disaster” that “really is a tragedy for the city”. He said he was told by a school a supplier had reported being paid twice.

“Because they…felt an affinity with the school, they reported it. But I wonder if that happened in every case – [it] seems pretty unlikely that every supplier took that view.”

A report published ahead of the vote on the system said one reason the authority wanted to withdraw the system from schools was because “financial and operational arrangements concerning the…system are under extreme strain”.

Any “Oracle-based solution for schools would be comparatively expensive and inefficient”, which “would not represent good value for money”.

The rest of the council will continue using the system while a new version is developed.

Another council faces issues

A spokesperson for the authority said town hall chiefs were “committed to working closely with the schools who currently subscribe to the HR, payroll and pensions services to support them through this transition”.

Lancashire County Council has experienced problems with another Oracle system, Oracle Fusion, used for managing finance, HR and payroll processes in schools.

Among them are issues that have stopped Teachers’Pension contributions records from automatically updating.

“Arrangements have been made so anyone considering retiring or requiring information for other exceptional circumstances, such as obtaining annual allowance details, can get accurate up to date information,” a Lancashire spokesperson said.

“We appreciate the frustrations of those impacted by these issues and apologise for any delays which have been experienced.”

Oracle declined to comment.

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