Twelve Open Questions for UK Government on its Strategic Vision for Shared Services

English: Oliver Letwin MP, Minister of State, ...

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English: Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Ca...
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A. INTRODUCTION – BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT 

This week, I belatedly spotted that the Government had published the August Structural Reform Plan progress report (published September 9). This initiative has really been an important step forward by the Coalition Government in open reporting to the public. My first deep dive was into Department of Works & Pensions (DwP), looking for an update on the Universal Credits programme. Readers of this blog will remember that two weeks ago, I published a blog entitled “Cabinet Office & Treasury Score Own Goal with “Catch 22”: More Myths, Realities & Escalating Risks?” which focussed extensively on the Public Accounts Committee serious concerns about the risks on the  Government’s flag-ship welfare reform programme, with subsequent alarm bell headlines across the UK media.

When I turned to the DwP update for the month of August in the Government’s August Structural Reform Plan progress report (published September 9), it simply reported “work ongoing”. This immediately put me on alert and I questioned:

Is it possible that the August Structural Reform Plan progress report, published by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Cabinet Office might not be entirely accurate in its representation of risks to the Structural Reform Plans?

This prompted my second deep dive into the August Structural Reform Plan progress report into the update from the Cabinet Office, which had been struggling against delivery milestones all year, for example, the Open Services White Paper was published six months later than originally planned (the Open Services White Paper was examined in detail in an earlier blog). Like the DwP, the Cabinet Office reported all actions as “work ongoing”. Anyway, this prompted me to research further on the Cabinet Office’s web site. Much to my surprise, I noticed that the Cabinet Office had published the Government Shared Services – Strategic Vision, July 29. I found the date of publication interesting as it was immediately before the Parliament’s Summer recess – also I remembered that Francis Maude had published an update on the Government’s “Catch 22 strategy” update on August 1. To remind the reader that two weeks ago I wrote on my blog:

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have repeatedly highlighted the increasing likelihood of failure from Local Authorities relying on Shared Services programmes to achieve draconian cuts in budgets (mandated by the Coalition Government). Last week, I cautioned against spending another £5 Billion on capital investment, citing the Government’s capacity to avoid the next omnishambles. Most of this year, I have also been leading a campaign to get the Cabinet Office to reverse its Catch 22 policy which, in my view and that of many colleagues, is not in the national best interest. The Rt. Hon. Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General has claimed that the Government’s Catch 22 controls over independent executives, consultants and contractors has saved circa £1 billion. Unfortunately, the reality, highlighted this week, is that the Catch 22 policy is a fatal own goal, with circa £3 billion plus of cost savings at increasing risk of delay, overspend and failing to meeting their policy objectives. The Government’s flagship welfare reform programme is just the latest casualty.

B. GOVERNMENT SHARED SERVICES – STRATEGIC VISION

As a Shared Services specialist, with a keen interest in Public Sector Shared Services, I was seriously intrigued why I had not spotted the  publication of the Government Shared Services – Strategic Vision earlier. Readers of this blog will know that I have been regularly blogging on this theme all year. In September, I published an update entitled “UK Local Authorities and Shared Services: Cost-Cutting – Myths, Realities and Escalating Risks?” which generated quite a lot of debate. I started to ask myself :

Why had the Cabinet Office published its Government Shared Services – Strategic Vision on July 29, six months late but immediately ahead the Summer recess and just before Francis Maude’s update on cost cuts (August 1) which captured quite wide media attention? (the Government Shared Services – Strategic Vision received very little media attention)

My original intention for this blog was to publish a critical review of the Government’s Strategic Vision for Shared Services but I was so disappointed by its content that I decided that for this blog I would just try to focus on generating some critical questions.  I was also a bit worried that I would perhaps demonstrate too much bias and wanted to test my perceptions on the wider public’s views too.

C. OPEN QUESTIONS?

  1. Has the Cabinet Office followed proper process and engaged in adequate consultation with stakeholders?
  2. Has the Cabinet Office adequately addressed its own bias and that of its limited group of external advisors, given that it had been charged with implementing Shared Service strategy since the Gershon Report in 2004 (the Cabinet Office subsumed the Office for Government Commerce -OGC)?
  3. Has the Cabinet Office compromised its Strategic Vision for Shared Services by creating a special and biased case for the Department of Transport (DfT), given that the DfT’s record on Shared Services has repeatedly been severely criticized since Gershon?  
  4. To whom did the Cabinet Office turn for expert advice in publication of this strategy paper and to what extent were they genuinely independent advisors?
  5. The Cabinet Office has declared circa £60 million of savings since Gershon (citing only DwP, MoJ and the Home Office) on an annual spend of £2.5 billion, equivalent to equivalent to 1%, when Best Practice in the Private Sector is circa 40% savings, so why has the Cabinet Office not targeted savings of say 40% (Best Practice), as part of its strategy, which would be equivalent to annual sustainable savings of £1 billion?
  6. Why didn’t the Cabinet Office strategy include Local Authorities, which presumably could generate savings of another £1 billion?
  7. Why has the Cabinet Office not mentioned Shared Services savings for all the departments and Local authorities since Gershon, and is one to assume that all the huge transformation work on Shared Services since Gershon in 2004 has not generated any auditable efficiency savings? 
  8. Why didn’t the Cabinet Office strategy cite the costs of consultants in engaged in advising on Shared Services since the Gershon Report? (Given declared savings of just £60 million, I would also question whether the vast sums spent on Shared Services consultants (since Gershon) have been in the overall public interest, i.e. has the tax payer lost out because consultants have not delivered demonstrable value for money?)  
  9. Is Shared Services the right solution for the Public Sector, compared to say outsourcing, given just 1% savings in nearly eight years, and unknown millions/billions of pounds spent on consultants?
  10. Should the Prime Minister perhaps intervene, like with Healthcare, and invite wider stakeholder consultation on Shared Services?
  11. Should there be a public enquiry as to why Shared Services has only generated £60 million of savings in eight years (equivalent to 1% on £2.5 billion), given the inherent bias of the Cabinet Office (including subsumed  OGC) and its narrow group of professional advisors?
  12. Should the Cabinet Office reverse it’s Catch 22 and policy and positively encourage independent executives and consultants, with suitable Shared Services expertise, to operate client-side in both Central and Local Government (bearing in mind that top-tier independents are a proven smarter choice than branded consultants?)

D. NEXT STEPS

I would encourage the interested reader to critically review the UK Government’s Strategic Vision for Shared Services and reflect on my Twelve Open Questions. Everybody is most welcome to share their views below.