Posted tagged ‘shared services’

Inside out

September 22, 2011

How far on the journey are we?

When I was much younger I spent a wonderful autumn making some extra money through conkers.  It wasn’t big business, but having a conker tree in the back garden meant I had a steady supply when many of my friends didn’t, so I swapped enough money for the odd trip to the tuck shop for some un-treated conkers of varying sizes.  My friends could have gone and got some conkers themselves, or perhaps sourced an external supplier from another school, but my services were cost effective and efficient, I offered a guaranteed service and at the end of the day I shared my sweets with them, so everyone was a winner.

This delve into history came to mind today when I read news that Birmingham City Council’s legal services team have secured a major contract to supply 70 health trusts legal support at a cost of £8.8m.  This has precipitated the development of two brand new divisions – LSB Law and LSB Law Conferencing – which will deliver this work and the training to complement it, a huge task in anyone’s estimation.

To my admittedly limited knowledge, this has to be one of the biggest examples this country has ever seen of a public sector service offered by one Council being sold to other public sector agencies.  I have experience of internal consultancies, many of which prove very successful.  Where a specialism exists which one single team has developed and which other teams need, it is not unusual for that team to charge a modest fee to make use of this service.  Design, communications, consultation, audit, legal advice, training, research, print; all these and more are made use of in the internal marketplace (which we looked at ourselves some time ago). (more…)

Local regionalism

June 1, 2011

Local solutions for outsiders?The Minister for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, has given the go-ahead for 250,000 tonnes of nuclear waste to be dumped in the UK.  Specifically, the old landfill site is in Northants, where a local referendum returned a 96% vote against being the result.

This situation is splitting opinion, in particular regarding two different elements of it.

To start with, It should come as no surprise at all that 96% of local residents voted against such a plan.  If you were to ask most people if they would like to have a nuclear dump close to their homes – and I have spoken to some of the people who live near the proposed site – they would probably say no, regardless of the actual details of the plans in question.  When presented with a simple yes or no, with an emotive issue and which most people don’t take the time to fully understand this is as surprising as the shock that FIFA is (allegedly) corrupt.

However, many of those same people often accept the overarching need for such a facility in general.  They would acknowledge that such waste needs to be disposed of safely somewhere, just not near them.  It is simple nimbyism – for those not familiar with the term, ‘Not In My Back Yard’.

This highlights an issue facing local government in this modern age of localism.  Such regional facilities will be required in the future – it is not practical that every town and village is entirely self sufficient in terms of energy creation, waste disposal and other public amenities.  It simply cannot be the case that each village, town or local authority can act in isolation, looking only within its artificially created boundaries and protecting the interests of its own.


Needing a cover story

February 10, 2011

Hiding under the water...

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?


Sharing services – an introduction

February 2, 2011

Because without sharing neither of us would be able to cross the chasm

Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps are fond of responding to Local Government leaders complaining about Local Government cuts with three responses:

  1. Local Authorities should not complain when they pay their Chief Executive more than the amount paid to the Prime Minister
  2. Local Government would be fine if it simply abolished non-jobs (Grant Shapps claimed Manchester Council should not cut 2,000 jobs but instead get rid of their ‘twitter tsar’)
  3. Local Government could make substantial savings if it did a better job of sharing ‘back office services’

We’ve addressed the first issue before and the second issue is obvious baloney so does not bear discussion (well, maybe if you’re lucky we’ll give it a run in a few weeks).

The third issue, that of shared services, is of real interest to local government and to those of us who work within it.


In praise of accountants

January 27, 2011

The bean counters have computers now!

In one of my previous local government incarnations we were going through a restructure and the powers that be had made it clear that, as so often, they would do everything in their powers to ‘protect the frontline’. One of my colleagues, only half in jest I believe, suggested that he was going to print some T-shirts for my team with the slogan: ‘back office staff are people too.’

I’m reminded of this frequently in recent times as politicians, managers, tweeters, bloggers and commentators all talk of implementing cuts that won’t affect the ‘frontline’. The hidden message in this language is that the back-office staff don’t really matter and cutting them won’t really make any difference.

Local Government workers, and hopefully blog readers, don’t need me to tell you that this is baloney. For example, there is not a member of staff who is not 100% reliant on the work of their IT department.

Despite this I recently found myself saying something similar about our finance department. I think my words consisted of something like: ‘there are quite a lot of them down there; what do they do exactly?’ I guess in times of cuts everyone looks for a scapegoat.

I was wrong of course. Good local government accountants are indispensible.



December 15, 2010

If we're all falling backwards together who is going to catch us?

As we near the Christmas period I have found myself reflecting on the challenges faced by Local Government once the dust of the local government finance settlement settles.

At the heart of the challenge seems to be a striking dichotomy; at the same time as local authorities are being asked to act more like the private sector the qualities that they most need are those most closely associated with the public sector.

To put it another way; as authorities move to become ‘commissioning’ bodies, set up trading accounts or join various forms of partnerships they are required to both embrace the ‘profit motive’ and at the same time enter into agreements with themselves and with other authorities that if they are to function properly rely to a certain extent on trust.


Royal decisions

October 25, 2010


Sign of the times or advanced warning?


The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham and Westminster councils announced on Friday morning that they will be investigating sharing all of the services provided by their councils.

The response in the media was suitably ridiculous.

The most commonly asked question from the great and the good in our media was how local people would know who to contact when they needed to get in touch with their local authorities.

This 100% missed the point. If I need social care, admissions information for my child or simply to pay a parking fine I don’t really care where the people I call are: I just want them to come and provide the service. Birmingham council is much bigger than this merged council will be and no-one gets upset that they don’t know who to call.

There are practical issues to overcome for sure but very few of them are related to the way that people get in contact with the council.