Research councils' shared services centre fails to deliver

21 October 2011

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21 October 2011 | Angeline Albert 

A shared services centre that was created to streamline procurement and other back-office functions for seven UK research councils has failed to deliver £73 million expected savings, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

The NAO report, published today, concluded the project to create a centre to combine the back-office functions of finance, ICT, HR and grant allocation, together with procurement, was badly planned and not good value for money. 

In 2006, the seven UK Research Councils agreed with their sponsors, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) (then the Department for Trade and Industry) to combine these departments by 2009. Procurement across the seven councils was already merged, but it was hoped that by combining the other back office functions it would be able to achieve even greater savings.

The project was completed in March 2011, 15 months late and £51.6 million over budget, costing £130.5 million against the original budget of £79 million. The NAO said there is a risk the councils may not recover their investment. It said the reasons for the overrun and delay included “the lack of a clear vision for the project”.

The centre has claimed procurement savings of £35.2 million but the NAO’s review found at least 35 per cent (£4.9 million) of the benefits recorded should not be claimed. The NAO said: “The councils have not monitored benefits effectively, resulting in a lack of clarity about the savings delivered.”

A BIS spokeswoman said: “There were problems with the management of the project particularly in the period leading up to late 2009. These now are being resolved and the shared services centre is now on track to deliver savings which will maximise the money available for investing back into science and research.”

The councils are the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.


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