I am firmly of the view that there are doable solutions to the problems of the George-town city council. This thought was borne out in a recent article which argued for “rule changes” by the Private Sector Commission (PSC), and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI). The argument makes the pitch that the PSC and GCCI should encourage their constituent members to comply with their obligations as corporate citizens. Chief among the myriad problems which beset the city is environmental pollution caused by improper waste disposal practices and which is not helped by the city council’s perennial claim of inadequate funds. Another is the lack of support in collecting outstanding revenues owed by businesses and private property owners.
What the foregoing indicates is that there is an urgent need for a city business plan in the first instance, and secondly for a realistic corporate revenue and debt collection policy. This suggestion presupposes that one (or both) is currently in place and might be due for review in terms of an implementation action plan to address old and/or emergent issues. Of course any proposed policy should apply to all relevant departments of the city council, and focus on debt recovery and charges with particular emphasis on the service user’s ability to pay council’s rates and taxes. In other words the approach to recovery must be sensitive to debtors’ circumstances while weighing the fact that the city council’s ability to provide services is dependent on available financial resources.
In cases where a debtor has more than one debt with the city council, the payments could be divided across the outstanding debts in proportion to the value of those debts, with the debtor’s agreement. However, this could be subject to reviews to adjust the spread of payments in instances of a default on the agreement or if a further debt is accrued. The Greater Manchester Consortium is a joint initiative which employs external bailiff companies to recover debt under standards and guidelines drawn up by the city council and other Greater Manchester authorities with particular regard to vulnerable categories of services users.
I believe I have heard that the Georgetown city council encourages its customers to contact the council if they are in difficulty meeting their payments to get advice on the management of their financial obligations free of charge. This is commendable, since such an approach can make the difference between getting agreed payments and getting nothing. In the undesirable scenario of a bad debt, a mechanism should be in place where it could be written back into the recovery process if the circumstances are proved to have changed in favour of the debtor, or in the event an absconded debtor is located. If the debtor is able to make voluntary additional payments, these should be accepted in order to reduce the payment period needed to clear the debt.
The advantage of the role of communication as a factor in the debt recovery equation can never be overemphasised, and that is where the new role of the PSC and GCCI comes in. Debtors should be encouraged to contact the City Treasurer’s Department to utilise the available financial assessment and advisory services whether they are in-house or provided by an external contractor. Augmenting these initiatives could be telephone calls, personal interactions, website information, and public service announcements to promote the services offered.
Monitoring would be an important process to assess the effectiveness of the policy since it can – in addition to highlighting and responding to cases of hardship – have an impact on the rate of collection of money owed. All of the foregoing notwithstanding, feedback via information about the effectiveness of the council’s policy could be used to carry out reviews at regular intervals. It is suggested that this policy document will establish a standard approach to dealing with customers in a fair and consistent way, while also protecting the city council’s need to collect revenue to provide future services.
Finally Editor, a corporate debt recovery policy will ensure that recovery action is professional, uniform and timely, taking into account individual debtor’s circumstances to ensure that undue hardship is not suffered; and reinforce the existing framework to cost effectively pursue debts owed to the city council by ensuring that citizens pay their debts and (in the case of PSC/GCCI constituents) fulfil their corporate obligations.
Patrick E Mentore