Council delays payments as bills come under closer scrutiny

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Consultants and contractors are having to wait for their money as Queenstown Lakes District Council tightens up payment procedures. 

QLDC capital works boss Ken Gousmett says the council is paying special attention to invoices from some companies and consultants, and changes have been made. 

“We’re less accepting from some parties – and I don’t want to name those parties – and they are subject to other reporting within council, not all of which is in the public arena, so we’re taking on board things that have been highlighted by other parts of council and responding to that.” 

Gousmett was more explicit in his “infrastructure capital works monitoring report” tabled at a pre-Christmas committee meeting. 

“Extra scrutiny of contractor claims and consultant invoices is resulting in delayed payment as further information is sought,” he told councillors then. 

“It is more than we have been doing,” Gousmett now admits. 

“I don’t believe there’s been a lack of scrutiny in the past at all but we are more conscious of it and we are expecting clear, transparent answers.” 

While it’s important QLDC pays promptly, Gousmett adds: “It’s also equally important that we don’t pay something that we’re not fully convinced needs to be paid or is correctly allocated and is being paid correctly”. 

The extra scrutiny has resulted in some delays, he says. 

No bills have been totally rejected, the capital works boss says, but queries have resulted in adjustments to some invoices. Clerical staff have also been told not to push payments through just because of monthly deadlines. 

Consultancy fees have actually dropped “quite significantly”, Gousmett claims. 

“I still hear people saying ‘you should reduce expenditure on consultants’ [yet] that’s already been achieved.” 

Eliminating consultancy costs altogether isn’t an option. 

“We don’t want to apply the brakes so hard…that we don’t actually get things built.” 

QLDC’s annual report for the past fiscal year to June 30, 2010 shows payments to “consultants (including professional services)” totalled $2.43 million.