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Supplier Payment Woes Another Blow To UK Government Practices

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The U.K.’s Government Digital Service (GDS) unit, tasked with ushering the government into the digital age, has a problem: Suppliers aren’t seamlessly getting paid.

That’s according to what reports on Thursday (Sept. 22) described as a “discovery project,” launched by the GDS’ Digital Marketplace. Its senior product manager, Cath Rooney, published a blog post that highlighted the struggles suppliers face in getting paid by the government after providing digital services.

According to Rooney and her team, a six-week probe found that it can take months for suppliers of digital services to simply receive a purchase order from the government, which is a validation that the government will pay the supplier for its services.

Different invoicing methods between government departments are also making it more difficult for suppliers to send invoices in the correct way depending on the recipient, with Rooney finding that suppliers spend significant amounts of time trying to figure out what information goes where, where invoices should be sent and, ultimately, managing those different kinds of invoices.

Some government departments are even mandating that suppliers send physical invoices by mail, described by one supplier in the investigation as “nerve-wracking” because companies don’t receive confirmation that the invoice has actually been received.

Payment to those suppliers is also a challenge, Rooney said, as “the systems in place often feel overwhelming” for government buyers.

“This leads to frustration and can have a negative impact on their relationship with suppliers who are struggling to get paid,” she stated.

On a broader scale, Rooney said that her probe revealed a conflict in how government groups implement their digital procurement practices. “Some of the people we spoke to who are in charge of the processes tend to focus more on the practicalities of their systems, as opposed to the people who will be using them,” the official wrote. “As they often told us, ‘The process is fine; it’s just the humans are the problem.’

“This clashes with the GDS design principle: ‘Start with user needs.'”

Rooney said she will use the findings of this inquiry to explore how to streamline invoice management and payments when they pass through digital government procurement portals, like G-Cloud.

Earlier this year, one government digital supplier, cloud hosting company Memset, voiced its own grievances over the government’s digital procurement efforts. Memset Managing Director Kate Craig-Wood said G-Cloud has been a flop as it costs too much to qualify for the portal yet leads to what she described as “pitiful” returns.

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