Day 4: News
Shared services is a new opportunity for improving services, not a return to old ways of working, participants were reminded on the fourth day of the Online Summit. "The general assumption appears to be that shared services equals merger/outsourcing - all scary and reminiscent of CCT (for those of you in local Govt, who remember those dark days)," said Gale Yates of Crawley Borough Council.
Jim McLeod, from Waikato Regional Council in New Zealand agreed, suggesting that this perception can be a significant barrier to acceptance within public sector bodies: "…people assume outsourcing/offshoring to be the result of any move to shared services, and the idea of outsourcing instantly generates huge resistance in staff and middle management. In fact outsourcing/offshoring a service is, but one extreme of a range of shared service options, even though it gets most of the attention," he said.
In fact, shared services open up a wide range of possibilities, and we should take care to avoid a blinkered approach, suggested Gale Yates. "The idea, surely is that we look for ways of improving service delivery (perhaps cost cutting at the same time) and this can involve working with others in a variety of ways - the others do not even have to be those providing the same service, they may simply have access to the same customers. This could mean: informal arrangements (doing a favour for each other?), partnership working, joint ventures with private sector providers, outsourcing, insourcing, the list is endless," she said.
A move to shared services will be a complex proposition for many public sector bodies because although it is an opportunity in some respects it is a threat in others, suggested Debra Storr, from Aberdeen City Council. Storr is well positioned to see this, being an ICT professional in one authority, and a councillor in its neighbour. "Tell members that it will make savings in matters that they aren't concerned about that they can then spend elsewhere and they will bite your hand off," she said.
A sticking point for many authorities may be the perceived threat to autonomy that shared services partnerships bring. "Many members will see joint boards, joint committees etc as a possible diminishment of control - and frankly local authorities have little enough as it is. And I don't think that the pushing from central government helps ... Yes we know we need to go down this route, but getting shoved in the back all the time means we may occasionally dig our heels in," said Storr.
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