HC Deb 14 February 2002 vol 380 cc615-6W
Mr. Bercow

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will list the instances in which his Department, agencies and non-departmental public bodies failed to pay valid invoices within 30 days or after the agreed credit period in the financial year 2000–01. [32029]

Mr. Wills

All Government Departments and their agencies are required to pay all undisputed bills within 30 days of receipt of the goods or services or receipt of a valid invoice, whichever is the later (or other agreed payment period). Since 1993 all Government Departments and agencies have been required to monitor their payment performance and the figures are published annually in the form of a written PQ. Figures for 2000–01 were published on 19 July 2001.

During the financial year 2000–01 the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) incorporating the Court Service (CS), Northern Ireland Court Service (NICS), Land Registry (LR), Public Guardianship Office (PGO) and Public Record Office (PRO) paid a total of 256,668 invoices. Of this total 15,717 (6.12 per cent.) were paid beyond agreed credit terms. These figures are broken down as follows.

Number Percentage
Invoices paid 43,194
Paid late 1,043 2.4
Invoices paid 144,034
Paid late 8,904 6.2
Invoices paid 16,844
Paid late 838 4.97
Invoices paid 31,240
Paid late 156 0.5
Invoices paid 12,358
Paid late 4,704 38.06
Invoices paid 8,998
Paid late 72 0.8

No central records are kept detailing the reason for late payment of each individual invoice. This information could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

This was the first year that LCD and CS have been in a position to report against all invoices paid rather than the practice in previous years of reporting against a sample of 1,200. A number of steps have been taken subsequently to improve payment performance. Following a successful pilot of the Government Procurement Card plans are in place to extend its use throughout the CS during 2002 and thereafter to other areas of LCD and its agencies. This will reduce the volume of individual payments and streamline the authorisation and payment process. The purchase order system is being used far more extensively and in new areas of the Department and this should also help to improve performance. There are signs that these changes have already had some impact as monitoring of this year's payments show that performance for LCD and CS has increased to over 96 per cent.

During 2000–01 the PGO experienced major changes which increased greatly their invoice activity. They also introduced steps to ensure payment performance improved. Changes to the finance management team, the purchase ordering process and increased monitoring of payments have reduced the risk of payment delay. Monitoring of the earlier part of 2001–02 showed that performance had increased to 71 per cent. The second half to date shows that 98 per cent. of invoices are paid within agreed credit terms.

The NICS has introduced a number of steps to improve performance. These include establishing a user group to encourage best practice in local offices and increase awareness for staff involved in processing payments. They have also redefined their end of year procedures. Although figures for this financial year (2001–02) show that their performance has decreased slightly to 93.5 per cent. the measures introduced should start making an impact in the financial year 2002–03.