People and Money
An official response from the Principal and senior leadership team to a letter from elected members of Senate regarding People and Money.
Dear elected members of Senate,
Thank you for your letter. We take it very seriously that you have taken the time to write to us in such detail and with such strength of feeling, and that so many staff have added their own names and comments in support. I also want to express my heartfelt appreciation for all the effort and dedication that so many of our colleagues have been making over the past few weeks to work through the backlog, provide support to staff and students and help to resolve these issues.
We are also acutely aware that our University is facing major disruption caused by the implementation of our new finance services underpinned by the People and Money system.
We have listened to how this is affecting our staff, students, suppliers and partners and we are sincerely sorry for the unacceptable position this has put people in. We recognise the extent to which this has affected the mental and physical wellbeing of our staff, the difficulties they face in these challenging economic times and the overall human cost of the issues with People and Money.
We value our staff as our greatest asset and we know only too well that for an organisation known for its world-leading research and teaching, priding itself on strong partnerships and looking after our people, this is a humbling situation. We are addressing it as our top priority.
We have already taken steps to pay any outstanding payments to students and to ensure that the upcoming student stipend processes operate smoothly, work through outstanding payments to suppliers and ensure continuity of supply of goods and services, address the backlog of research projects to be added to People and Money and ensure that the finance processes and reports associated with these operate effectively for project teams, and support budget management activity. This will help us to reduce the need for calls to the Finance Helpline and to resume normal service. We’ve set up task teams, bolstered by dozens of staff reallocated internally, to address these issues. We are monitoring progress daily at the highest levels of the organisation.
Below we have set out our response to each of the concerns you raise, bringing these together where our explanations, actions and commitments apply to more than one topic of concern. We have also detailed the affirmative actions that we are taking based on your feedback, with a number of significant lessons learned, including our commitment to an external review of the People and Money programme to inform our ongoing improvements.
1. The University is failing to meet essential contractual obligations and basic, routine needs of research and teaching.
Our commitment is to tackle the backlog as swiftly as we can and get payments, purchasing and our Finance Helpline working as they should. Once this is addressed, we will review the next set of priorities.
- We are committed to introducing a mechanism for a one-off payment to those students who we know received late stipend payments in September and/or October 2022. Other people who have experienced financial loss will be given access to hardship funding and processed as a priority.
- If any member of staff needs help with a payment that is or has become urgent, they can speak to a member of their local Implementation Group to escalate it. This is a team of managers who have been working on preparing for, and implementing, these changes in your area. Their details are on our People and Money webpages.
- As outlined below, we’ll share an email address with PGR students shortly which they can use to escalate any problems with the upcoming stipend payments for resolution, as quickly as possible.
- In September, we made the decision to pay student stipends ‘off-system’ through a contingency file to the bank, rather than through People and Money. Over 2,000 stipends were paid through this process as expected. A number of issues emerged following this payment, including a delay in payment for students who matriculated after the September stipend cut-off date where our process did not operate effectively enough, and due to issues which arose incorporating varied payment cycles and approach in different parts of the University (for example quarterly payment cycles in arrears/advance).
- In October, we successfully paid circa 2,000 PGR stipends, and the vast majority of these were processed through and paid into the student account on time through People and Money. There was an issue on Friday 28 October, where a payment for around 140 students was not made due to a technical error unrelated to People and Money or our University systems. Finance immediately engaged with the bank and these payments were made on the same day.
- Following that, several issues remained which were escalated either on an individual basis and/or through Colleges/Schools and these were paid as quickly as possible.
- We are putting in place revised plans to ensure that our next set of stipend payments in November and December, and beyond this, are paid successfully via People and Money. We are going to make the next stipend payments by the formal payday of Monday 28 November. We’re making extra checks and contingency arrangements in case any issues are encountered. We will share a new email contact address with students and staff so that any problems can be escalated and resolved, on the same day where possible.
- Our new payroll processes have been in operation since April 2022 along with payroll-related processes such as setting up new contracts.
- During September and October, we processed a very high volume of contracts (new starts transfers, secondments and additional posts) and where full and accurate information had been received on time, payroll transactions were processed to ensure payment.
- A small number of issues were raised relating to these. We’re working with Schools to address these as soon as possible, and to improve our processes in the longer term.
- The staff expenses system is operating as planned - these are progressing quickly through the system once line managers have approved any claims.
- We have paid out more than 800 student expenses and our payment rate for these has increased significantly over the past couple of weeks. We do still have a small backlog of student expense payments and, along with stipends, additional staff have been allocated to support the clearing of the backlog and get back to our normal payment routine.
Supplies and services
- We have paid out more than £100 million in invoices, expenses and other payments since our new finance services went live in People and Money. But there are delays in payments and some suppliers have paused supply to us while we work with them to resolve issues.
- We’ve set up four task teams, bolstered by dozens of staff reallocated internally, each focussed on buying goods and services for a dedicated category: estates; IT and telecoms; medics and labs; and campus and professional services.
- These teams are prioritising escalated issues from budget areas; targeting certain suppliers; and then working on the backlog. Structuring the task teams like this allows us to, for most suppliers, deal with payments and any issues within that from start to finish.
- Because Finance has reallocated staff to support supplier and student payments, this does mean colleagues are not getting the complete service they expect at present. We are trying to get through the backlog as quickly as possible so that they can focus on their day job again.
- Before our old finance system closed, we asked colleagues across the University to close off as many of the financial transactions as we could in eFinancials and prepared to migrate open invoices from the old to the new system. We put in place interim processes for the period of downtime between the old system closing and People and Money being implemented, which in the end was extended to a slightly longer than five-week period.
- We asked the business areas to suppress demand during that interim period, for example by ordering in advance or by delaying transactions where possible, but we knew there would be some activity that would have to carry on during that period and that there would then be a backlog of payments to process as a result.
- Despite the planning we put in place, the key areas we have highlighted have been a significant challenge since launch. The most challenging and complex supplier payments relate to processing payments which took place while our systems were closed, and from before the launch of our new finance services in People and Money.
Research grants finance processes
We are aware of increasing concern about the potential risk to our core activity unless there are some quick resolutions to outstanding issues with the finance processes which support our research activity, over and above those covered above. We are taking the following actions:
- We’re making some changes to the Project Administrator role and have been in touch with the staff affected. We’re working with the Colleges to reallocate the Project Manager system role, on an exceptional basis, within local areas, to reduce the number of system approvals going to Principal Investigators.
- We are making changes to the visibility of project information through reports which will give people an overview of the information for their projects and/or areas of responsibility.
- Since launch, we have created 86 research projects in People and Money with a further 175 in the set-up phase and 365 projects which need to be set up. We will run repeated, focussed ‘sprint’ sessions with colleagues from ERO, the Colleges and ISG to resolve this backlog. This will be done on a prioritised basis agreed with the Colleges, alongside regular progress monitoring.
- We know delays in opening projects on the system have had a knock-on effect on recording costs for Schools’ unrestricted funds. Guidance and templates for moving costs between project and non-project codes will be shared in November to allow Schools to tackle this, and guidance on project-to-project fund movements will follow shortly.
Financial documentation requirements
- Previously, staff who also received stipends could view both their stipend and their salary on the payslip. This is no longer possible because, since the launch of our new payroll services in April 2022, scholarship and stipend payments are now made by bank transfer via our Accounts Payable team, rather than through the payroll.
- When stipend or expenses payments are made, a remittance advice will be sent by email. This provides assurance of the amount being paid monthly and that payment is on the way. This replaces any payslip that was received prior to April 2022.
- This means that the information about pay and any stipend or scholarship is still available, but in different documents.
- We realise that the information in these two sets of documents may not have been clear since our new finance services launched in August. We hope to have now addressed this so that, in future, staff in this position will get the information they need through these two sets of documents. We’ll continue to monitor this and take action where needed to ensure information is clearly set out.
- Payslips and salary information can be found in People and Money. Payslips and P60s from before the launch of our new payroll services in April 2022 were available to view in the previous Oracle system until July 2022 – we issued communications in the months before with reminders to staff to download these in advance of the deadline.
2. The University is creating unworkable demands on frontline professional services and academic staff both short-term and chronically, harming wellbeing and careers.
Our colleagues work very hard to ensure that most of us don’t have to be in the position of thinking in detail about back-office processes and systems. We know that we all need them to work smoothly so we can get on with our jobs, whether it’s research and teaching or supporting these or other aspects of our core mission.
We're very sorry that the introduction of our new services and system have created such unsustainable pressure on staff at the frontline of our research, teaching and administration. The changes in processes and system have had an immediate impact on colleagues who purchase goods, pay for goods and support our key financial processes. We knew that would be the case, but this has been compounded in several ways, including through the much bigger than anticipated backlog and the fact we were unable to get the right training to all the right staff ahead of launch.
We are tackling some of these issues by putting in place dedicated teams to manage the most difficult issues - enabling us to cut rapidly across the University to solve them - and bringing in new staff where needed, but we recognise that this is a partial and temporary solution.
We’ve agreed a number of medium- and longer-term actions:
Promotions and career prospects
We are aware that some Schools have already closed their academic promotions submission window. The process and deadlines for submission have been published well in advance and staff have been encouraged to work towards these. However, if there are members of staff who have been working on their application but have not been able to submit on time due to additional work they have undertaken as a result of People and Money, they should raise this with their Head of School or Dean. Under these circumstances, we will consider late submissions up to Thursday 15 December 2022.
Training and support
As well as the system changes and the processes they underpin, new teams have been formed to help with buying goods (Procurement Operations) and with the ways in which we get money into and out of the University (Finance Operations). This follows on from recent changes in how we support budget areas (Finance Business Partners). Fundamentally, the way we look at our financial information is also changing as we introduce a new Chart of Accounts.
We knew staff in all areas would need to get used to our new business processes and system and that this would take time. We also understand that in some areas, training has been compromised due to our tight timelines for delivery. We apologise for that and we are taking steps to provide further training where needed.
In the months before launch, we needed to complete user acceptance testing, start the implementation cutover activity, and train our staff. With limited time, we had to make difficult decisions about priorities.
Dedicated training was provided to finance specialists, Principal Investigators, and other staff, for example in administration and research support roles. Between 28 July and 30 September, we delivered 41 training sessions across the University to 2,820 attendees. Specific scenarios are being identified for improved training including additional ‘how to’ videos.
For wider staff, we ran a series of training sessions, including line manager and budget holder approvals; how to request goods and services (for both staff and students); and, for business support staff in Schools and departments, training for requesting invoices and non-PO payments.
Guidance, guides and videos have been accessible via our People and Money webpages since before launch, although there are still more to complete. Following feedback from support clinics we will provide additional training on the sales invoicing process and the purchasing and requisition process including specific requisition scenarios such as VAT, call off and value-based requisition. We will also follow up with Implementation Groups on further training requests. Drop-in sessions are also running on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays every week. Colleagues are on hand to answer questions related to the new finance system. A link to the schedule is available on our People and Money webpages.
We recognise that familiarity and confidence in using our new system and processes is crucial to get things moving again. Training and support will form a key plank of our ongoing support now and over the next couple of years.
Staff morale and ambition
It does take time to get used to our new system and we know this is slowing things down and making life harder. We understand that this is the last thing people need when they are so busy and under pressure. We are very sorry that it is causing so much disruption to your work.
We hope that current and future staff will see the steps we are taking, including those outlined in this letter, as positive evidence of our commitment to making the situation better and to ensuring that the University of Edinburgh will continue to be a prestigious and rewarding place to study and work.
Our new financial approvals are carried out by every line manager in the People and Money hierarchy until the transaction reaches an approver with the required level of authority for the type of transaction. The one exception to this is for financial transactions approved within the Projects and Grants module, where approvals are initially routed to the Principal Investigator or Project Manager, or an optional requisition approver with a £10k approval limit.
90-95% of our transactions are of a value that only require one approval. We have always had the need to approve spend, but it’s been inconsistently approached in the past, so for some colleagues the change will be disruptive for a period of time. It is, however, a key element of our financial controls which allows us to ensure the right people are sighted on and approving expenditure, so we are meeting our regulatory and auditing requirements around management of our finances.
Finance is continuing to monitor short- and long-term staffing levels. We have hired new staff and seconded experienced staff from elsewhere in Finance to address the current backlog. We are also working with the wider University to second additional colleagues to work on priority areas. As we work through the backlog, we will return seconded staff to their original roles to minimise the impact on workloads in other areas. We will continue to monitor staff requirements across HR and Finance to ensure there are sufficient staff to support these key services.
3. The University has damaged our reputation and good standing in the sector and public with essential partners.
The University prides itself in fostering good relationships with suppliers, and we are doing our best to ensure all payments are processed as quickly as possible. We have apologised to any of our students, staff or suppliers who are experiencing a delay in payment.
A fundamental requirement for a University such as ours is of course for our processes to work effectively for those we employ, engage with, and for those who supply us. We hope to have outlined in the section above on Services and Suppliers that we are making every effort to regain our standing and reputation with our valued supplier and service partners.
Furthermore, we are aware of the potential impact the recent difficulties will have on our role as a partner in the local economy. We understand fully and recognise the goodwill we have been afforded in these trying circumstances and will make every effort to regain the trust and confidence of our community, including our business partners across the piece.
We are currently working through some challenges in paying international partners, with particular attention to those in the global south. We remain absolutely committed to our partnerships across the globe and appreciate that this issue exacerbates some already strained relationships with partners, particularly those previously affected by UKRI GCRF budget cuts. We are addressing individual issues as they are escalated and working across teams to ensure that all international partners are set up appropriately for payment in the future.
4. The University has lost members’ trust and confidence in our leaders' capacity to prioritise essential needs and manage central change processes.
Throughout the planning and implementation of People and Money and other change projects, we have been carrying out a series of Lessons Learned sessions so that ongoing improvements can be made to planning and implementation.
We take contingency planning seriously and we did put measures in place to address risks and issues, however the impact of the backlog which built up during the interim period has been significantly greater than anticipated. Additionally, there were unexpected issues with the September and October stipend payments and student expenses which are now being rectified.
On addressing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, we confirm that the People and Money system complies with the industry best practice Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Our procurement process focussed on making sure our system is available to as many staff as possible and this continues to be a priority. Additional improvements will be made following the external review mentioned above as required.
We have held a number of open staff meetings over the past weeks to listen to staff concerns about People and Money and to provide an update on the actions that are being taken to resolve issues as quickly as possible. We have also held an open meeting for PGR students to address concerns around stipends and expenses. Senior managers are committed to updating staff and students more regularly on the actions that we are taking to address issues.
5. We expect a better response from University leadership.
The senior leadership team and University Executive, the Policy and Resources Committee - a key sub-group of Court - and the full Court itself have discussed People and Money extensively over the past few years. Although we don’t generally make public announcements about such discussions, we accept that we should have communicated more fully the importance that has been accorded to the new system and the challenges it has posed to many of you. We are taking steps to improve the way senior leaders are listening to staff and students, and we are establishing more regular updates as issues are addressed.
Throughout the years we have been preparing for and launching each phase of the People and Money implementation, we have provided regular briefing calls for leaders and emailed staff and students directly with updates. We also provided an outline of the changes coming up, including guidance materials and demo videos, via a dedicated pre-launch SharePoint site which our communications directed people to for more information.
This is in addition to targeted briefings and engagement with local Implementation Groups, set up in each College and professional services group to plan for and deliver the changes in their area.
To show how we’re responding to staff concerns, we have collated feedback from the recent staff and student open sessions and will be producing and sharing a series of FAQs as soon as we can to provide further updates on the steps that we are taking to address concerns raised by staff and students.
As mentioned above, we have committed to an external review of the People and Money programme to evidence and inform this continuous improvement.
Delivering strategic change
We are a large, successful University with an ambitious strategy, and so we must continue to innovate. Nonetheless, we are listening to our community and are now reviewing the ways in which we lead and manage major strategic change projects.
We realise there is dissatisfaction with the way some of these larger initiatives have been developed and delivered in recent times, and we fully recognise that this applies to the People and Money programme and in particular to its most recent, final phase.
While lessons are being learned and applied, we know that more needs to be done to significantly improve the quality of the way in which we deliver strategic change projects and realise their intended beneficial outcomes.
As mentioned above, a paper on ‘recommendations for future provision of strategic change and continuous improvement support’ was recently tabled at University Executive which reflects on a number of key issues that have been escalated. These initial reflections and recommendations will necessarily require broader engagement and input from colleagues in different parts of our University, with those discussions helping us shape a more effective approach to strategic change and continuous improvement in the future.
As part of this, we have, as noted above, committed to an external review of the People and Money programme to evidence and inform this continuous improvement.
By way of conclusion, we note below the key actions and initiatives that we will undertake to address our current challenges:
- External review: we have committed to commissioning an external review of the People and Money programme with the intention of gathering evidence to inform recommendations which will focus on improvement.
- The Enactment Group will continue to meet weekly, subject to any further review. As well as overseeing the actions and priorities set out here, the Group will support the establishment of the new People and Money Operations Group. In turn, this will focus on embedding and enhancing the People and Money system and the finance and HR processes it underpins.
- Local Implementation Groups will continue to meet regularly, to listen to concerns and to respond with actions.
- We will improve our levels of engagement and communications both with the senior management of the University and the Operations Group recognising how critical user engagement is now and will be in the future. We are taking steps to improve the way senior leaders listen to staff and students and will establish more regular dialogue as issues are addressed. We will continue to engage with staff and students regularly over the coming weeks.
- ISG, Finance, HR and the remainder of the project team will continue to work together to help ensure resources are aligned to the agreed priorities. We will maintain support calls, Teams channels and other support and communication mechanisms during this period. We are also actively looking into how we can provide further training and refresher sessions.
The Enactment Group set out a set of indicative priorities for the period from the start of November 2022 to the end of January 2023. Its highest priorities and areas of immediate focus are the backlog of supplier and student payments and stabilisation of those processes, research grants finance processes, budgeting and forecasting and any system defects impacting on these areas. We have previously set out the resources that are being prioritised to address the payments backlog and the projects backlog.
In addition to this, we are committed to the following:
- Complete the recruitment of a People and Money service team which will sit in ISG. Once operational, this team will work in partnership with the Colleges, professional services areas, HR and Finance to lead the ongoing performance, development and enhancement of the systems which underpin our University's HR and finance activities and operations.
- In addition to this, we are recruiting new roles to support enhancement and continuous improvement activity. This includes Finance functional leads and professionals to work on HR process improvement, business analysis and training.
- Extend the support provided by our implementation partner Inoapps and keep this under review, with a focus on tackling remaining finance system defects. We have also extended the time that a number of our Finance functional leads will remain dedicated to the post-launch work to the end of the calendar year. We have extended dedicated support from some of the programme team, change team, and business analysis support, as well as the accelerated customer support offered by Oracle.
In response to the questions of leadership and governance, the University Court has received regular updates on the progress of People and Money as part of ongoing business activities and are aware of their responsibility to hold to account the management of the University.
We hope this response goes some way to conveying the depth of our apology, our commitment to radical and urgent action to resolve the situation and to learning lessons for the future. Our thanks, again, to you and our wider colleagues for writing to us and we look forward to working with you as we address and radically improve this situation in both the short and longer terms.
Our work with you, Court and Senate will fundamentally underpin this effort.
I offer apologies again from myself and all members of the senior leadership team and from the very large number of colleagues involved with leading, planning and delivery of the People and Money programme for all the distress caused by recent difficulties. Please accept our shared commitment to ensuring that the situation improves as quickly as possible, and that lessons are learned. This spirit of continuous learning is fundamental to our University.
Peter, on behalf of the senior leadership team
Professor Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, The University of Edinburgh
Your letter is addressed to me as Principal, to the Rector and to the Vice-Principal Research and Enterprise. I am replying in my capacity as Principal on behalf of the whole senior leadership team which I chair, also as Convener of Senate. The Rector is not a member of the senior team or indeed of the executive leadership of the University and she might wish to provide her own response: she is copied on this reply for her information. If you wish to copy Court on correspondence, it would be best to address the Senior Lay Member who is the de facto Chair of the University. Since this response is in the interest of the entire University community, we will be publishing on our Staff News webpages at the point of sending to you.