09 August 2001 | Robin Parker
Government offices have failed to meet targets for prompt payments to suppliers for the second year running and their record has got worse, according to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
In 1998, the DTI set a 100 per cent target for all departments to pay their suppliers on time by the financial year 1999-00. However, in that period, only 97.8 per cent of suppliers' bills were paid within the agreed 30 days, which fell to 96.8 per cent for 2000-01.
Announcing the departmental performances for last year, Patricia Hewitt, trade and industry secretary, said anything short of 100 per cent for her department was "unacceptable", and she promised measures to reach the goal within the first half of 2001.
A DTI spokesman said the fall was caused by a number of factors including ministries not dedicating enough resources to tackling the problem. Only the National Investment and Loans Office met the target, which Brian Toward, its personnel and procurement manager, attributed in part to its small size. "There are only 30 of us and it's an open-plan office," said Toward.
The office of the Secretary of State for Wales, the worst offender of the 49 departments, paid just 67.5 per cent of bills on time. A spokesman said the figure was a "temporary blip" because of a crucial staff vacancy within the department. "At some points of the year, up to 99 per cent were on time," he said.
Measures to improve performance, including a better payment practice code, which all government departments and agencies have signed up to, have helped to identify areas of improvement, said Nigel Griffiths, the small business minister.
The DTI also hopes to benefit from its involvement in the pilot phase of TenderTrust, an Office of Government Commerce (OGC) e-tendering initiative. The system could save £13 million a year.
* A guide by the OGC and the Small Business Service on how small businesses can bid for public sector contracts is at www.businesslink.org