Getting to the heart of the UK government’s plans for e-invoicing

Getting to the heart of the UK government’s plans for e-invoicing

The UK Government last week published what they call their “Information Economy Strategy” in which the UK’s intentions for e-invoicing in public sector are stated. It’s been met with a positive, indeed an enthusiastic response. But not from me.

This is what the UK government says: “Government also wants to make it easier for its suppliers once they have won contracts, by encouraging the use of electronic invoicing.” And they go on: “Government will not mandate suppliers at this stage, but will look at ways to spread best practice, and will track progress with a view to taking action if required at a later date.”

Some commentators seem to believe that this adds up to a commitment. I’m no mathematician but when read this, in terms of commitment, it adds up to the square root of .. well, nothing! This statement of intent is typical politician speak that aims to placate the well informed who know something needs to be done and at the same time reassure the flat-earthers, fearful of change.

I can feel a rant coming on and perhaps I’m being a bit unfair. It’s easy for those of us who have been immersed in e-invoicing for years to see the way forward but bringing the uninitiated to the same fully informed view requires patience. There are other priorities and the arguments need to be presented with a persuasive clarity. That doesn’t happen overnight. So I sought a more measured view and spoke to Nigel Taylor who chairs the UK National e-invoice forum. I asked him a deliberately provocative question: “A decision to ‘encourage’ the use of e-invoicing and to take action at a later date is a decision to do nothing. When do you think the UK will wake up to the fact that e-invoicing could represent an important means to save the UK tax payer £billions?”

“I think the government has definitely now woken up to e-Invoicing” he explained, “and the efficiencies and savings it can bring to the UK public sector. By including e-Invoicing within what is a comprehensive strategy paper, the government has made a public commitment that will be measured and reported on going-forward.

“Personally I have seen active engagement from ministers, MPs and some civil servants and I have been encouraged to see them engage with organisations such as ours, the Institute of Credit Management, the Forum of Private Business and the British Chambers of Commerce. The government realises electronic invoicing is aligned with their initiatives across procurement, shared services, late payment and access to finance for SMES and is part of their overall strategy of being easier to do business with.

“However I am under no illusions. Government is a ‘layer cake’ comprised of many elected officials and civil servants across various stratospheres of public services and this is only the first step in creating a comprehensive strategy on e-Invoicing for the UK government, which is why the UKNeF will continue to work with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to increase awareness and ensure adoption.”

Nigel’s is a fair and well informed point of view and on reflection, I’m a little less cynical. It’s easy to knock politicians. It’s also easy to stand on the side-lines and bark criticism. To influence change you really need to be a part of the change rather than a spectator and commentator and that’s why I plan to join Nigel at next week’s UKNeF session in London to get a little closer to what is really happening in the corridors of power to effect change in the way we do business. I’m looking forward to it.

Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin

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