The Cabinet Office has launched a new shared services strategy that aims to improve civil servants’ interactions with back office services and save millions of pounds over the next decade.
The plan requires the civil service to build stronger capability at the centre and within departments, and will be led by a new Government Shared Services unit within the Cabinet Office.
Government said it will enable officials to “seamlessly move between departments and roles”, allowing Whitehall to deploy staff more easily to meet specific challenges.
In a report published yesterday outlining a new 10-year strategy, the Cabinet Office boasted that half a million employees were now supported by shared services – and 90% of employees within ministerial departments.
This strategy follows a major shared services plan launched by former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude in 2012, which the Commons' Public Accounts Committee found had only saved £90m by 2016, while investment costs had run to £94m. The PAC accused the Cabinet Office of a “failure of governance and leadership”, and said it had failed to secure sufficient buy-in from departments.
The Cabinet Office has identified three objectives for the new strategy: delivering value and efficiency; convergence around processes and data; and meeting end user needs.
It said that efficiency savings can be made by fully integrating services, for example with Border Force scheduling at the Home Office, teacher recruitment at the Department for Education, and prisoner food ordering at the Ministry of Justice.
The report estimates savings of approximately 10-15% over the next 10 years if government implements the strategy. These savings are to be achieved by splitting technology from individual services, adopting cloud software and a greater reliance on self-service, robotics and offshoring certain processes.
“This inevitable move,” the report stated, “has the implication of a need for strengthening the capability in the centre and department to ensure there is no single point of failure.”
On convergence of processes and data, the report said HR and finance functions would lead the way in establishing global standards and agreeing changes with departments through the Government Design Authority.
It outlines plans to develop three technology platforms for government, with departments choosing between providers Oracle, SAP and a third, cheaper, flexible alternative that is yet to be decided, with departments responsible for making decisions for their agencies. Over the life of the strategy, departments will adopt a cloud platform.
Currently, Oracle is the technology provider of HR and finance functions for the majority of large departments, but the new system aims to promote more “competitive tension among suppliers that helps to maximise value for government”, the strategy revealed.
On meeting end user needs, the report said that the Cabinet Office had run workshops, interviews and focus groups with hundreds of civil servants to understand those needs, which range from easy online access to all employee information to an intuitive interface and the ability to track queries online.
Civil servants will continue to be consulted and will be represented in the strategic governance structure of the Government Shared Services unit delivering the strategy, “to ensure end user needs are continually monitored and responded to”, it continued.
The report highlighted the Home Office Oracle Cloud project as a pioneer to be extended to other departments.
Matthew Coats, interim head of government shared services, and chief operating officer of the Ministry of Justice, said the strategy set a clear direction for government.
“This will be step change in shared services across the government, directly supporting civil servants in their roles, while also contributing significant savings to the public purse,” he said.
“By allowing civil servants to spend less time doing administration, they can spend more time delivering vital services to the public.”