All government departments need a range of corporate functions to support their operations and people, including human resources, finance, procurement and payroll. These services are used by more than 450,000 civil servants. For the last two decades, central government has been trying to achieve more sharing of these ‘back-office’ services across Whitehall departments to cut costs and improve efficiency. However, previous shared services strategies have failed to deliver, and back-office functions are costing the taxpayer over £500 million a year. In the past we have warned that the longer it takes for government to get on-top of the situation, the greater the impact will be on the rest of Whitehall and the effective functioning of government.
In 2021, the Cabinet Office refreshed its current Shared Services Strategy, grouping departments into five shared services clusters. We welcome the ambition of the new strategy and its commitment to delivering savings by moving to cloud-based technology, and standardising processes and data across government. Some progress has been made in the last two years, but we remain concerned about deliverability.
There are still several things that need to be put in place to ensure this effort does not falter like previous strategies. These include having contingency plans in case the current strategy encounters problems; securing the level of funding required to implement current plans; quantifying the benefits of the strategy; and having measures in place to monitor the overall progress of the strategy. If this strategy is to be a success it needs to reduce costs while also freeing up resources from back-office functions to provide better front-line services.