On Monday morning I had what I thought was a slight cold. Sniffing, I headed to London. By late morning, it was a proper cold and by the time I arrived in Westminster for the second sitting of Stephen McPartland’s parliamentary inquiry into e-invoicing, I’d developed full blown man-flu.
This was a session characterised by contrasts. Forthright opinions together with cautiously expressed views. Good news mixed with disappointing revelations. But overall a great second session.
Together with Stephen, I was joined by the same group as last time, Emmanouil Schizas, Senior Economic Analyst at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, a highly articulate, calmly spoken and intelligent individual; Professor Dermot Cahill, an authority on public procurement law who had just returned from what sounded like a fascinating trip to Nigeria (I must speak to him further about this); Ian Taylor, a former Member of Parliament and no stranger to technology discussions; Chris Godwin, a most charming chap who founded the UK National e-invoicing Forum (UKNeF) and last but not least, our co-chairperson Philip Aiken, Chairman of Aveva, Australian and quite the diplomat – he only mentioned the Ashes 4 times.
First up was Sid Vasili from Invapay together with Ian Burdon from Elcom and regular contributor to Purchasing Insight. Those that know Sid will not be surprised that he was forthright in expressing his views. His no-nonsense approach impressed the committee. “I feel that a direct approach is always the best policy” he explained later, “or else we could be faffing about for years and getting nowhere with the Tax Payers picking up unnecessary costs.” Hear, hear I say.
Ian Burdon is a man of words and he used most of them on Monday. His insights based on his own experience as a civil servant and his current role at Elcom were high valuable.
Next up were a group of civil servants, Kerry Jones from BIS, Martin Leverington Procurement policy adviser at the Cabinet Office and Sam Rowbury, Director of Public Procurement Policy, also at the Cabinet Office. I found their submissions fascinating – not so much because they brought a new insight to the table from quite a different angle, but the caution with which they addressed questions. Sid Vasili would never have made a civil servant.
Finally, Malcolm Harbour, Member of the European Parliament, brought good news and less good news. The good news was that he was able to confirm that the European Commission had given its approval to support e-invoicing by developing a single standard to support interoperability across the EU. This has been reported widely but it was great hearing the interpretation directly from the MEP. The less good news was the description of the timescales to develop and implement the standard. My heart sank, and I think a few others did too, when we heard that it would take 3 years to deliver the standard and that would be followed by another 3 years to deploy it.
Set your alarm clock for 2020.
I shouldn’t be depressed about it. 2020 is the worst case scenario and I have enough faith in some of the European governments to feel optimistic that they’ll accelerate these timescales. After all, the estimated savings are €2.3 billion and every year that there’s a delay there’s another €2.3 billion down the plug hole. Even the most cautious politician would not want to defend that level of waste.
The written and oral submissions are now complete and the hard work of delivering a document that summarises our findings now begins. I’m looking forward to working with the team to get this out – hopefully this side of Easter.
That is of course assuming that I didn’t give them all man-flu and they refuse to be in the same as me ever again.
Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin