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Developing shared services in the public sector

Working together to cut costs

At the time of writing, 219 councils across England are engaged in 143 shared service arrangements. The efficiency savings they have made amount to some £156.5 million.

Major savings of this kind are allowing organisations to do more with less — sometimes significantly so — and they’re within the reach of nearly every public sector body.

If you take a look at the national map of shared services on the Local Government Association website, you’ll find an interactive map that plots each instance of shared service provision across the country. 

It’s a good source of inspiration. For example, if you click on some of the markers you’ll find services like:
  • A shared museums service between Worcester City Council and Worcestershire County Council — saving £150,000 to date
  • Shared procurement between Lincolnshire County Council, The City of Lincoln Council, six district councils and a private sector partner — saving £9m so far
  • Shared legal services between Harborough District Council and Melton Borough Council — saving £71,000 over 3 years
  • Shared foster care placement provision — a shared service for 13 councils in the North West, which has delivered savings of £1.9m and cut the cost of placements by 6.1%
  • Shared waste management between councils in Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol City, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire — saving £44m over 5 years.

There are many other great examples of shared services out there, but there’s one snag: it’s not always simple or cost effective to set them up.

Online collaboration to implement shared services

The public sector organisations behind some of the most innovative shared services seem to have two things in common:

  1. All partners collaborate closely and efficiently as they set up the relevant shared services 
  2. As collaborative working has becomes ingrained in the partnership, it inspires new projects and achievements.

One particularly fruitful partnership was that set up between Herefordshire Council, Herefordshire PCT and Wye Valley NHS Trust.

These organisations decided to share a single Chief Executive and to share budgets for learning disabilities, adaptations, mental health and continuing care.

They used online collaboration software to help them implement shared services because it gave them the project management tools they needed to manage the amalgamation of departments, infrastructure and posts.

Using secure online workspaces to manage the change was a huge success, supporting  £3m of savings during 2011 / 2012 across a variety of departments.

Yet, while tools like shared calendars, task lists and documents that could be co-authored all in a single secure project workspace were essential to steer the change process, the introduction of online collaboration delivered many other benefits.

As managers got experienced in using collaboration software, it became the inspiration for many new partnership and stakeholder engagement initiatives — and the platform on which they were delivered, including online communities for:

  • Higher level teaching assistants
  • Deputy head teachers
  • Learning mentors
  • Community led planning
  • European partner organisations

It’s this tendency for online collaboration to become a driver for innovation and improved team communications that makes it so valuable to public sector organisations in the longer term. It not only delivers immediately savings, but it creates opportunity.

And because it can be cheap to implement, it can offer major benefits to any public sector organisation — no matter how large or small.

You can learn more about how the Herefordshire partners succeeded by downloading our guide to doing more with less from the box below. And if you have good examples of delivering shared services online, be sure to share them with us.

Coming up next: Cutting IT and software costs
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