Luton Council rings the changes over missing’ phones

Mobile phone: stock image.
Mobile phone: stock image.

Branded “a sorry tale”, Luton Borough Council is thumbing through the directory to account for its unused telephone lines and keep tabs on its mobile phones.

But efforts to resolve the issue have been left on hold for longer than the local authority’s audit and governance committee would like.

The council’s internal audit update, produced for the committee, had a familiar ring to it.

“A sorry tale is where we come on this,” said Labour Northwell councillor Roy Davis, who chairs the committee.

“What worries me most is the lack of real progress since last time we asked for a further update.

“It’s the litany of things which were identified to be done which have not been done.

“And the fact that we’ve still got people out there with phones who just seem to be able to use them at will and not pay is worrying.

“We just need to get a point where someone has got this under control,” he added.

“I understand putting someone in post should make a difference, it’s the right thing to do, but it seems to have taken some time to get there.”

The council carried out an audit of mobile phones in November 2015, according to a report to the committee.

It highlighted “weaknesses in policies and procedures over the monitoring of employees’ permitted use of mobile phones”.

There were also issues over “the maintenance of accurate records of the allocation of devices to users and their return to the IT provider,” said the report.

A second follow-up review last December identified that staff, issued with mobile phones, have not been asked to sign user agreements routinely.

“There are a significant number of sim cards and mobile devices on the IT asset register which are assigned to the wrong person, are no longer in use, or cannot be located,” added the report.

“The system provided by the mobile phone provider to manage billing is no longer in use, and no alternative system has been put in place to enable managers to view and query usage.

“And a monthly report of the users with the highest spend is not being produced and circulated to the relevant managers.”

The local authority has “identified that no replacement software is in place to manage the council’s mobile phones and monitor usage”.

But a piece of work has been completed to identify unused and unneeded telephone lines, which has resulted in a large number being turned off.

“The next stage involves developing a new telephone policy and strategy, and to review existing contracts,” said the report to councillors.

“The department is also in the process of recruiting an IT contracts manager to improve the internal control environment within this area.”

The council’s director of transformation Aidan Wilkie said: “Since I joined the council, five months ago, we’ve not made enough progress as quickly as we ought to, both on IT assets and on mobile phones.

“We’ve completed the inventory works of who’s got what, who’s not using things, and shutting down lines where there’s nobody actively using them.

“That work is completed. A significant number of lines have been closed and that gives us a greater understanding of what’s out there and who’s using what.

“We’ve now got our ICT contract manager in place. We’ve got a team supporting him.

“We are taking a far closer look at the payments we are making, the bills that are coming in,” he told the committee on Thursday, December 13.

“If anything looks irregular we can then go back to the relevant part of the business and say: ‘Double-check that this makes sense, that’s it’s ongoing’.

“Now we’ve got a team in place that can do this we can crack on with the recommendation around procuring a piece of software which will allow us to make this far less of a manual task.

“So hopefully the next time we can come back to this group in the New Year and that level of assurance will go north,” he added.

“I am more comfortable we are delivering against these recommendations, and that more importantly we’ve got a closer handle on the telephony and with the IT assets than a couple of months ago.

“Belatedly, absolutely belatedly, we’re starting to make quite good and quite quick progess in both of these items.”

Councillor Davis asked: “Given the history of it, what we would like to know is when do you think we can close this item?

“We’re more confident that you’re able to tell you’ve got a grip on this, which is good.

“I think the underlying problem we perceived was that nobody’s head was on the block for this. And that seemed to be the thing you addressed most, maybe not yours,” he said. “But somewhere in the system someone should know everything that’s going on, and there was nobody there to know it.”