Odyssey for invoices in the world of Producer Choice

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The Independent Online
JUST wha t does it take to pay a bill at today's BBC? Efficiency was the goal of the corporation's Producer Choice initiative, but the scheme has sprouted a new bureaucracy.

Producer Choice means that BBC departments buy and sell their services on an internal market. The system is so complex, though, that paying a bill for Children's Television is now an odyssey involving a 14-step flow-chart laden with branches (see above).

Clerks in the Children's Department have been issued with a training document (reproduced here) by a Costing Systems Co-ordinator. Titled Flow of Invoices, it describes how to process bills through the corporation and is accompanied by a memo: Procedure For Handling Invoices.

The chart lists up to 14 different steps ordecisions that can be taken once the financial assistants have opted for one or other of two routes, each sub- dividing into three different paths before flowing together again in a single track.

From Start we move to Supplier sends invoice to Mgmt (management) Office or Production receive invoice direct (Prodn do GRN (goods-received note), Service Codes & Project No).

The Management Office then writes the name of the programme on the invoice along with its authorisation code and stamps it with the official stamp. If a purchase order has been raised, the clerk then sees if a goods-received note exists. If it does not, Production should be rung up or sent the invoice for them to raise a GRN and stamp the invoice before returning it for the Management Office to enter it in the computerised ledger, the NCS (New Costing System), and tick the box on the stamp.

TheManagement Office then sends the invoice to Production, which collects them together in batches and authorises them manually and electronically. The Management Office then checks the batch and signatures, posts it electronically and keeps copies. Which brings us to the final step: 'Mgmt Office files invoices.'

A BBC spokeswoman described the document as 'a simple flow-chart setting out in a schematic way how to process invoices'. 'It looks complex,' she added, 'but actually it's a very quick chart to flow down.'