Renfrewshire Council overpaid staff and ex-workers £812,000, watchdog reveals

A local authority in Scotland overpaid staff and former workers by more than £800,000 in less than three years, spending watchdogs have revealed.

A report from the Accounts Commission disclosed that Renfrewshire Council made more than 800 salary over-payments between April 2015 and February 2018.

These amounted to about £812,000, the report said, with six over-payments exceeding £10,000 and one person receiving £15,500 more than they should have.

The Accounts Commission also found “an eighth of former employees were still paid after leaving the council, usually due to a delay in a department notifying payroll services staff that someone had left”.

The council has recovered 58% of the money overpaid to current staff and 27% of that overpaid to former employees, but the commission noted it has written off £21,000 of the cash.

A Renfrewshire Council spokesman said: “The risk of overpayments exists for all organisations and we have robust recovery processes in place for all debts owed, including salary overpayments, and we always take all appropriate action to recover all overpayments.”

Details of the financial error were revealed in a new report from the local government spending watchdog, which warned systems aimed at preventing money being lost through mistakes and fraud may be becoming “strained”.

It said: “There are signs from councils’ internal auditors and the work of councils’ external auditors that standards of internal controls may be strained.

“Some recurring weaknesses are becoming apparent among councils and the consequences could be serious, including the loss of significant amounts of public money, impacts on services and reputational damage.”

Graham Sharp, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “Robust management and scrutiny of the finances at Scotland’s councils is more important now than ever before.

“Councils face complex and challenging financial pressures, and rising demand for services. At the same time, budgets are tightening and there is significant uncertainty from factors such as the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.”

He said there are “many examples that the systems for managing finances in Scotland’s councils are working effectively”, but added: “Councillors are ultimately responsible for scrutinising a council’s use of public money, and they should seek assurances from council officers that rigorous systems and processes are in place to safeguard finances.”

Alison Evison, president of local government body Cosla, said the report was a “timely reminder of the many and varied pressures on local government”.

She added: “Scotland’s councillors appreciate their role and duty in safeguarding public money and take it seriously.

“Our colleagues at the Improvement Service support councils with this through the continuous professional development framework for elected members and bespoke support to develop councillors’ scrutiny skills.

“Cosla and our colleagues in the Improvement Service will continue to support our member councils look at ways to strengthen our joint work in this vital area even further.”

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