The first rule of UKNeF is don’t mention UKNeF

The first rule of UKNeF is don’t mention UKNeF

Posted by Pete Loughlin in e-invoicing, Electronic Invoicing 25 Jun 2013

UKNeF is the snappy acronym for the United Kingdom National e-invoicing Forum. It’s constituted under the Chatham House rule. In case you are unfamiliar with the Chatham House rule – it’s like Fight Club. The first rule of UKNeF is don’t mention UKNeF. And it really is like Fight Club. The action takes place in a basement. It’s an orgy of e-invoicing debate starring Edward Norton as “Nigel Taylor”, the insomniac office worker looking for a way to change his life who finds friendship with the devil-may-care character “Charles Bryant” played by Brad Pitt.

OK, it’s not like Fight Club – but it is set in a basement.

Purchasing Insight logoThe acronym gives it away really. Anything called UKNeF is not going to be sexy. This is about e-invoicing after all. And while it may not be sexy, it is serious. It has been estimated that the United Kingdom spends between £22bn and £28bn each year just on preserving paper processes. That’s not the cost managing invoives and payments – that’s the money that is allocated to archaic ways of working – cash that could be freed up if public sector embraced the digital economy and traded electronically with it’s suppliers. And it is this scandall that UKNeF is working hard to rectify, trying to open up the conversations and pursuade the politicians that it time that e-invoicing was adopted.

Faced with the facts, electronic invoicing is a no-brainer. It doesn’t even require a leap of faith. The UK need only look as far as Denmark to see a precedent that proves the e-invoicing case. So why does there appear no political will to do anything about it? There’s a few reasons but the biggest is the aversion to regulation.

For years, regulation has been taboo. Regulation means extra cost. Regulations are patronizing and interfere with free markets. But regulation is not always about interference. It is sometimes a manifestation of leadership. Actively encouraging or even mandating the use of electronic invoicing is simple common sense. But politicians see it as regulation – forcing business to send invoices electronically – as if forcing them to send paper is not regulation!

The UK government trying to lead business on e-invoicing is a bit like teachers trying to teach kids about Facebook. They already get it. Why do politicians think that most of the biggest businesses in the world are already adopting electronic invoicing? But that is not to say that the sponsorship of the UKNeF by the Depertment for Business Innovation and Skills is not a positive gesture in the right direction. It’s very positive and the work of the UKNeF is making and will continue to make  an invaluable contribution but I think they should go further and make a much bigger noise.

It’s time to come out of the basement and evangelise e-invoicing. The sooner the public sector in the UK stops the waste of £billions on archaic paper processes in its back offices and begins to implements 21st century best practice, the sooner tax payers money can be diverted toward measure to stimulate the economy and protect vital public services.

Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin

  • john mardle June 26, 2013 at 9:50 am /

    I attended a meeting on19th JUNE 2013 at the Houses of Parliament not only to hear about Michael Fallon’s MP view as minister of state for Business and Enterprise but also to hear the views of 60 delegates representing approx. 200K SME’s across the country and I summarise the main points:
    A) The need for alternative financing to commercial (retail) bank lending to SME’s and the Business Bank was mentioned but as I say just mentioned.Handelsbanken was held out as good example of ‘personalised/community’ driven lending….no reasons as to why were given…..but personally speaking speed is part of the equation.
    B) The threat to SME’s was seen as coming from more reporting/bureaucracy-red tape and yet audit limits, submissions to company’s house have all been revised in favour of SME’s and some say that this has resulted in even more failures as not spotting problems (especially in cash flow) earlier enough.
    C) Late Payment–confusion reigned as to how to put this into practice let alone law, Reporting CEO’s on the web site was Mr Fallon’s view. Personally I see this as just bureaucracy gone mad. Contracts exist and the law can be enforced…..its a matter of judgement for any ‘going concern’.
    D) E-invoicing is seriously being considered by HM Government for all departments and they want Public authorities from police to Local Councils to follow their lead.My view is that Mexico and Brazil have tried and Italy have started the process of adoption and with SEPA (Single European Payments Area) stumbling (Germany saying its too fast – its due for roll-out Feb 2014) its a big ask…but potentially could help SME’s in both cash flow and reporting/bureaucracy reduction.
    E) Current and New funding streams to be streamlined (number and complexity) with focus on Horizon 2020 scheme from 2014 to 2020. Details remained sketchy but focused on 19-24 year olds and apprenticeship schemes so critical to SME’s.

  • Mairi Hayworth June 26, 2013 at 9:52 am /

    As a member of the UKNeF who has been implementing eInvoicing in the private sector since the early 1990s, I couldn’t agree with you more. No one in their right mind thinks that business needs more government regulation and yet mandating the use of eInvoicing in the public sector is akin to mandating the use of email rather than sending messages by carrier pigeon. Taxpayers should not be footing the bill for an army of manual data processors when these people could be redeployed to provide valuable front line services. If the UK wants to compete globally, it should look to those countries that are leading the way in eInvoicing, where government mandate has led to a significant increase in affordable, accessible, and simpler eBusiness solutions, particularly for SMEs.

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