Shared services to ‘become the norm’ in Whitehall

20 June 2012

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20 June 2012 | Adam Leach

The government is to increase the use of shared services, making it “the norm” to increase efficiency and ensure high-quality services are available to all departments.

The Civil Service Reform Plan, published yesterday, outlined a number of reforms to the way the government operates. Civil servants will be placed under the spotlight and undergo “more rigorous performance management”. In particular, the plan identifies commissioning and contracting skills within the service as lacking. To rectify the shortfall, staff with the relevant skills in commissioning will be deployed where they are most needed.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude, said: “We need to build capabilities, address missing skills and embrace new ways of delivering services, for example through mutuals, and do more digitally. To improve decision making we need better management information and greater accountability.”

The increase in shared services is intended to create a more unified Civil Service. “There will be a more unified approach to developing talent and building capacity across the Civil Service. Shared services will become the norm to ensure that there is a consistently high-quality service available to every department,” it said.

Prior to the announcement, the CBI published a report on how to standardise shared services across the public sector. It called for all existing shared services centres to be compared to the best performing, with those found to be underperforming required to outline how they will improve. Departments and agencies not already using the centres should be directed to do so by the Cabinet Office. It also said that all local authorities not already doing so should share back-office functions with neighbouring authorities.

Matthew Fell, director for competitive markets at the CBI, said: “At a time when budget savings have to be made, central government must standardise the sharing of back-office services, like ICT and HR functions, which can deliver both better value and maintain or improve quality.”

Update 25 June 2012

CIPS CEO David Noble today issued a response to the Civil Service Reform Plan. He raised concern over the proposal to establish a Commissioning Academy in 2013, that "is separate from and alongside the drive to improve procurement practices".

His statement said:"CIPS has a concern over the positioning of procurement in the recent Civil Service Reform Plan. Changes in the commissioning sphere over the past 12 months suggest there was always going to be a move towards commissioning becoming a separate discipline but we are clear that it is synonymous with strategic procurement and that many of the skills such as category management, supply chain analysis, and critical demand management are core procurement skills supporting the commissioning agenda.

"There are subtle distinctions between the two roles, as commissioners have wider service delivery requirements to ‘the citizen’, but the thinking behind strategic procurement must be utilised for commissioning to be effective. A large number of our members work in procurement and commissioning teams, especially in local government, so the synergies are already recognised.

"CIPS is clear that the proposed establishment of a separate Commissioning Academy is an unnecessary move. CIPS is already heavily engaged in the development of procurement capability in public sectors around the world and will share this expertise with UK government on this agenda to find a way for the two disciplines to work together going forward."

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