Edinburgh staff ‘devastated’ by payment delays – Times Higher Education

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Staff at the University of Edinburgh have raised “urgent and profound” concerns over the handling of the institution’s switch to a new finance system. 
An open letter to senior leaders calls for them to “take responsibility” for the problems that have caused “direct hardship to students and staff” and are “doing significant long-term damage to the university”.
Payments to contractors have been delayed for several weeks due to the roll-out of the “People and Money” system, while PhD students were not paid their stipends on time and new orders were suspended for a six-week period. 
It is understood the letter had gathered 2,150 signatures by 8 November – an eighth of Edinburgh’s entire 16,000-strong workforce – and a corresponding document compiling issues people had encountered with the system ran to 69 pages. 
Staff grievances included in the report – seen by Times Higher Education – are many and varied. Some say they have not been paid for work undertaken over the summer or reimbursed for costly research trips overseas. Departments are said to be running out of basic supplies such as paper and stationery and others could not order more specialist items, such as chemicals or safety equipment for laboratories. 
New appointments are also being affected, staff say, due to delays in contracts being issued. Other staff members could not get hold of their payslips or other tax documents needed to rent flats or support visa applications. Many say the problems are adding hours on to their working days as they try to navigate the “difficult-to-use” system, placing them under “a considerable amount of stress”. 
Disruption to research was another major issue, with some experiencing delays getting hold of grant funding or being able to report back to funders how money had been spent. Payments for things like vehicle hire, couriers and conference fees were all delayed. 
One comment, by a staff member with 20 years’ experience, says it is the worst crisis they’d seen at the university in that time; bigger in impact than the 2008 financial crash, Brexit and the Covid pandemic. 
The open letter says the issues are having a “devastating” effect on all aspects of business at the university including hampering the careers of researchers, ruining relationships with suppliers and funders and deterring prospective students and staff members from applying for courses or jobs.
“Many research-active staff are [forgoing] external grant applications until they are sure that the university is capable of administering financial awards,” the letter alleges. 
It calls for senior leaders to “clearly and unequivocally take responsibility for the disruption and hardship caused to date” and take “urgent action” to fix the issues in the short and long term. 
The letter says staff should be reimbursed if they have encountered charges due to delayed payments and steps should be taken to address any disadvantages they may have experienced in their careers.
Staff also call for apologies to be issued to external parties affected and a pause on other “transformation initiatives” until the problems with people and money had been fully resolved. 
The university has previously apologised for the disruption and said it was working to clear the backlog of payments as quickly as possible. Asked for further comment, a spokesman said open meetings had been held to give staff the opportunity to ask questions about the new finance system and update them on the latest developments. 
“We know there have been stipend and student payment issues and these have been escalated to the highest level to be resolved as quickly as possible,” a spokesman said.  
“We are acutely aware of the impact that this is having on some of our staff and students, and we will continue to keep them informed with progress…We apologise to all those affected and are working to ensure this will not happen again.”
tom.williams@timeshighereducation.com 
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