Plans to create five multi-department shared-service centres for the civil service to deliver a “converged approach” for dealing with pay and other transactions – as well as standardising performance data – have prompted concerns from Whitehall’s biggest union.
PCS said the Shared Services Strategy for Government, based on the recommendations of former Cabinet Office Minister Lord Francis Maude, was “a plan for more job losses and outsourcing” and warned it was planning a concerted campaign of opposition.
Under the Cabinet Office proposals, the five centres would deliver back-office finance and HR transactions for groups categorised as “Defence”, “Overseas”, “Delivery”, “Policy”, and “HMRC-led”.
The “Delivery” group, for example, brings together the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; the Department for Work and Pensions; the Home Office; and the Ministry of Justice. It does not currently have a shared-service provider.
The “Defence” shared services bring together the Ministsry of Defence; the armed forces and the armed forces pension scheme. They are currently delivered by Oracle, which is also responsible for the “Overseas” group, which brings together the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department for International Trade Overseas.
The strategy says Maude proposed “adopting a converged approach” to shared services, “offering standardisation of business needs, reducing competition for skilled resource and delivering lower costs”.
According to the strategy, the shift to the five-centre model will reduce the extent to which data is siloed, transform the way it can be analysed, and mark a move to cloud-based business-process management.
The strategy notes that increased automation and prioritising data will “make systems quicker and easier to use” and result in “savings and benefits”.
According to the strategy, departments in each of the centres will work together to design a common operating model, and implement standardised cloud-based business-process management services, or "enterprise resource planning" (ERP).
It says the commercial convergence delivered by the shared services centres will “secure value” through a “national pricing model for major ERP suppliers” that would drive “commercial tension and flexibility”.
Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez said the strategy would “iron out” systemic inefficiencies to leverage advances in technology, improve government’s central processes, and lower costs.
“The shared services strategy will bring together core functions of a business into a single simplified centre to save time, cut back-office red tape and offer taxpayers better value for money,” she said.
“It will provide one operation that is simpler and smarter. It will eliminate the duplicated effort that saps energy and morale, and will claw back the thousands of hours that we would all rather spend helping people recover from the impact of the pandemic than filling in data fields on an outdated form.”
PCS said the Shared Services Strategy was the third time the government had revised its approach over the last decade, not including a “strategy refresh” in 2019. The initial shared services agenda was driven by Maude when he was a Cabinet Office minister under the 2010-2015 coalition government.
“The reason for these launches/refreshing is that the current arrangements – as we warned in 2010 – have still not achieved the large-scale cost savings and the improvements to services that the government promised would be delivered as a result of its plans,” the union said in a statement.
“Time and again, ministers and senior managers have pursued failed ideas. This has left our hard-working members with increased workloads and increased stress as they try their best to deliver a good service. These failed ideas have led to large scale outsourcing, offshoring and job losses.”
The union said it had called a meeting next week to “start planning our resistance to the changes”.