Needing a cover story
We’ve spoken about shared services before and suggested that whilst they are a good thing they are not a panacea for all of local government’s cost cutting needs.
However, this week I discovered one of the other reasons shared services can be successful; and I’m not sure it’s a good thing.
I remember that when the Euro was introduced there were lots of stories in the papers about how small business people were taking advantage in the change of pricing to put a little extra profit into their margins. The change of currency provided an opportunity for those who wanted to make other changes without people noticing.
The potential for the same to happen with shared services was brought home to me this week. I was speaking to a consultant specialising in southern councils and she told me that one of the reasons she liked shared services was that the two councils could use them to make wider changes that would otherwise be out of reach.
When I pressed her about this (I’m a curious type) she told me that what she wanted to do was reduce the grades of staff who were doing the roles in question. As she said, junior staff can do the same job as those who’ve been here a long time but do so for a lot less money.
She also wanted to reduce some of the ‘managers’ to the role of ‘team leaders’.
I guess I have nothing against any of these things if they need to happen. But, surely these are not savings that are dependent on, or even brought about through the shared service?
In effect, what is happening is that the shared service is being used a cover for some of the other difficult decisions that need to be made.
Maybe this is a reflection of the state of local authorities at the moment. Maybe staff are overpaid for the jobs they do and the authorities are over managed. However, I can’t help thinking that the best way to tackle this is to be honest about the problem and the solution and then work to deliver on it. Shared services are meant to save money from economies of scale and not from simple downgrading of staff.
Let’s hope shared services everywhere aren’t being used to hide other unpopular decisions.