31 October 2011

Political colour no barrier to sharing services

Party politics is no longer a significant factor when picking a public body partner in sharing services, according to a major survey published today. Respondents listed "same political control" as the lowest priority when sharing services with another organisation.

The survey*, of nearly 500 senior public sector executives carried out by UKauthorITy.com with support from Socitm and Capita, presents an encouraging picture of willingness to share services. While cutting costs is overwhelmingly the strongest reason for doing so (94.2% of respondents), more than 70% saw shared services as an opportunity to for innovation, radical redesign of services or improvements in quality.

Fear of job losses emerged as the biggest single barrier to sharing services. Others included the silo mentality, difficulties with change management, fears over loss of autonomy, fears over loss of organisational identity, and time taken to establish the partnership.

Only a small minority of 5.1% felt that shared services had no benefit for their organisation. Even more encouragingly, only 5.7% said that their organisation's needs were unique to the extent that sharing services with other organisations would not be possible.

However the results are not all good news for the government, which is pinning its hopes on shared services to achieve savings while protecting front line services. Almost no respondents expected returns on shared services investments within the current spending round, with 57.2% expecting returns to take more than five years and 19.5% saying three to five years.

Meanwhile, although responses showed strong belief in technology as an enabling factor, a significant number of respondents - even among ICT professionals - had little faith in central government initiatives such as the Public Services Network and the proposed government cloud. "There was remarkably low recognition of the role of the government's ICT strategy in helping to develop shared services through development of common standards, infrastructure and interoperability in public sector ICT - nearly four in 10 (37.5%) did not know about the strategy and a further third (33.4%) were neutral on the matter. Just 4.1% Strongly Agree, and a further 17.8% Agree, that the ICT strategy would help shared service development," the report notes.

The study is based on responses from 479 senior directors and officers from 310 organisations across central and local government, police, fire and health over the summer of 2011.

*The First Steps: building a culture of trust to deliver shared services. UKauthorITy with support from Capita and Socitm. Copies are available here.