Oil blaze hits council services

THE major oil depot fire in Hertfordshire knocked out a processing system used to pay thousands of people working for Essex County Council, it has emerged.

THE major oil depot fire in Hertfordshire knocked out a processing system used to pay thousands of people working for Essex County Council, it has emerged.

The details of a few thousand of the council's 40,000 staff - many of whom are teachers - are still held on a payroll system operated by an agency based in Hertfordshire which was shut down because of the oil depot fire in Hemel Hempstead.

The new payroll system, called GENUS and used for the vast majority of council staff, was unaffected.

In the wake of the massive blaze - the biggest industrial fire in peacetime Europe - county council officers were forced to switch the older payroll system via a system in Kent in order to ensure all its staff were paid in time for Christmas.

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But problems still persist for the county council in terms of its library services. No overdue letters or postal alerts telling people their books are ready for collection are being sent out because the premises where these items are produced was severely affected by the same blaze.

The two issues have prompted calls for a review of risk management procedures at the council.

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Tom Smith-Hughes, Liberal Democrat group leader, said: “One does hope that the county council will look at all its risk management procedures in light of this. I am sure that is something the county council will do.

“It appears that the council has dealt with all of this quickly by switching it all over to Kent.”

A spokesman for the county council confirmed that arrangements were quickly put in place to re-route payroll information to computers in Chatham in Kent and that all staff would be getting their pay on time and as usual.

The unusual library glitch has been caused because Essex library service does not produce its letters in Essex - but miles away at the Steria Data Centre close to the Buncefield oil depot.

Because of the problems, the county council will be discounting fines if caused by the difficulties.

Iris Pummell, cabinet member for community services said: “The library service produces its overdue and reserves notifications both through telemessaging systems and hard copy letters.

“The telemessaging system is unaffected by the Hertfordshire oil depot fire. However, the hard copy side has been affected, as the service's data is converted at the Steria Data Centre into letters to customers.

“No data has been lost, but the stationery is inaccessible.

“Essex County Council's Library service has ordered new stationery as a result, and the system is due to be up-and-running as soon as possible. In the meantime staff are contacting customers where it is possible, and the telemessaging service continues as normal.

“In the meantime, Essex Libraries are responding sympathetically to any customers who have not received notification, reducing fines if appropriate. If members of the public have any concerns, please do not hesitate to contact your local library for further information.”

Theresa Higgins, the Liberal Democrat libraries spokesman, said she welcomed any moves to treat library users fairly if their books are overdue as a result of communications problems.

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