2 Recent performance |
5. There have been inconsistent levels of progress
in establishing shared services across governmentsome
of the larger departments have consolidated multiple systems into
single systems, and other departments have gone further and established
their own shared service centres.
However, problems remain with performance information, inefficiency
and low departmental take-up and an insufficient focus on customers.
6. In 2008, we concluded that: there was a lack of
reliable information on the costs and performance of corporate
services; and inconsistent recording of data was making benchmarking
difficult. In this
session, we were extremely disappointed and frustrated to hear
that the Cabinet Office still did not have good information and
was therefore unable to compare the operational performance of
centres. There was no measure of the quality of the services until
the National Audit Office produced one as part of its report in
7. In terms of financial information, the Cabinet
Office accepted that although cost data did exist in departments,
it had not pulled it together in one place until 2011. Between
July and November 2011, it told us that it worked with departments
to gather and analyse costs.
The National Audit Office report identified large variations in
the cost of shared service centres. For example, the Research
Councils UK centre spends £1,600 per customer user compared
to £500 per user in the Department for Work and Pensions'
centre. The Cabinet
Office agreed that it was not sustainable to allow this to continue
and said that it intends to more actively benchmark costs and
use this to ensure that performance improves across government.
The Cabinet Office accepted that an element of "persuasion"
may be needed to encourage centres to achieve these benchmarks.
8. Shared service centres were built without a confirmed
number of users and the use of these centres by departments has
been voluntary. Some centres have failed to attract users and
continue to have spare capacity so have therefore not achieved
economies of scale.
The Cabinet Office acknowledged that the "one thing that
drives benefit and efficiency in shared services is scale."
Witnesses told us that the low uptake is because departments were
sceptical about the shared services programme and wanted to see
how the pilots worked before deciding whether they should join
in. We were also
told that departments may have had concerns over the quality of
services they would receive.
9. Many of the customers of shared service centres
have insisted on services that have been tailored to their systems
rather than the shared service centre providing one process suitable
for all customers.
This has resulted in overly complex systems and processes which
are less economic. The Cabinet Office's new strategy proposes
that shared service centres will provide the same "basic,
simple and reusable" process for all customers.
Whilst this is welcome, the Cabinet Office must be able to ensure
much greater usage of the centres on this basis.
10. Witnesses accepted that departments have invested
more in setting-up the infrastructure for shared service centres
rather than focusing on the user experience. Specifically, departments
did not give sufficient attention to the cultural changes required,
with users in customer departments struggling to understand what
benefits shared services meant for them. For example, departments
did not spend enough time getting the business users trained on
how to use new systems. More positively, we heard about the Department
for Education's experience of joining the Department for Work
and Pensions centre and the importance of classroom training for
their staff on the new systems. 
In its report, the National Audit Office described the Department
for Education as having one of the most advanced intelligent customer
functions, with regular communication, partnership working and
a focus on cost management.
We heard that the Cabinet Office intends to share the experiences
of the Department for Education to demonstrate to other departments
the benefits they would gain from joining a shared service centre.
9 Qq 2-3, 27 Back
Committee of Public Accounts, Eighteenth report of Session 2007-08,
Improving corporate functions using shared services, HC 190,
conclusions 1-2. Back
Qq 22, 59-62 Back
Qq 26-30 Back
Q 66, C&AG's report, Figure 5. Back
Qq 30, 51, 58 Back
C&AG's report, para 11 Back
Qq 58, 109 Back
Q 24 Back
Qq 17, 34 Back
Qq 68, 73 Back
Qq 73-74 Back
Q 10 Back
C&AG's report, para 2.8 Back
Qq 52, 108 Back