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Forces pay mess blamed on human error

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Reports of problems with the British forces' new pay and personnel computers continue to rumble on, with some personnel saying that pay has been withheld for months. The Joint Personnel Administration (JPA) system was provided for £250m by EDS, everyone's favourite gov-IT provider.

“I haven’t been paid properly for months and two-thirds of the officers I graduated with from Sandhurst are in the same boat,” one army officer freshly back from Iraq told the Times today.

“I can’t tell you the full scale of it but from my experience it is chaos," the disgruntled soldier added. He said that many units were having to use hardship funds to help with family gas bills.

JPA was introduced for the Navy - smallest of the armed services - in March '06. The RAF, substantially larger, joined in the following October. There were numerous complaints and teething problems, with some apparently persisting to this day. It was recently reported that members of the Special Boat Service (SBS) - who are mostly Royal Marines, and so have been on JPA for 20 months - are still suffering problems with their pay.

Nonetheless, the Army switched over in April this year. The MoD has admitted that as of August - the latest period for which figures are available - 16,000 service members were underpaid. Substantial numbers, too, have been overpaid in error.

Contacted by the Reg, the MoD said that the system itself was working fine. However, it was admitted that a lot of wrong information had been entered and that problems with operating staff were ongoing.

“Input errors based on a degree of unfamiliarity with the new scheme have resulted in a small number of pay inaccuracies," according to the MoD.

"Thorough investigation of these errors has shown that the JPA system is working extremely well... JPA... requires accurate and timely input from... HR administrators."

"Measures have been taken to provide additional training for HR.”

The MoD spokesman also said today that JPA is expected to yield savings of approximately £100m per year. When asked where the savings were to come from, the spokesman said:

"Partly staff... fewer man-hours required to achieve tasks... fewer systems to be kept up."

That sounds like fewer back-office MoD civil servants and contractors, to us. Or job cuts and outsourcing among the MoD pay, admin and IT bureaucracy, to put it another way.

It may take more than training to convince those people that it's in their interests for JPA to work efficiently. ®

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