When Labour took control of Hammersmith and Fulham Borough (LBHF) one of their manifesto commitments was a review of shared services arrangements with the Westminster (WCC) and Kingston and Chelsea (RBKC) authorities. This “critical friend” review has now been published. The report makes key recommendations for improvement around: vision, leadership, accountability structures, governance, procurement and technology. What’s interesting from a unison perspective is that it contains a survey of staff across the 3 boroughs.
The survey was sent to all staff in LBHF and all staff working in shared services in the other two boroughs (RBKC and WCC). There was a great deal of agreement among staff the key challenges were solving the different processes technologies and cultures which make shared working difficult and a huge feeling of uncertainty about what the future held.
Uncertainty: most respondents picked “neither agree nor disagree” when asked whether shared services had enabled cost savings and service improvements. It was generally felt that costs savings were the overarching priority for sharing services. LBHF staff felt more strongly than the other boroughs that shared services “does not improve individual borough’s ability to serve own residents”.
Personal development: while staff felt that sharing best practice and working shared teams offered personal development opportunities there were serious levels of concern about job security. This may though be a general, and not unrealistic, concern felt by all workers across local government considering the level of budget cuts they face.
Staff are pretty evenly split between those who would like to see more joint working and those who want to see it end, and 16% who didn’t know. Finance and corporate services were most keen to return to single borough operations.
Another issue is the “enduring variance in terms and conditions between and within teams”. This creates “difficult working environment”. The report states that there is a risk that “the good will of staff is being stretched too far”.
The technological issues are significant, there are three IT systems leaving an admin heavy workload this often leads to the recruitment of temporary staff to process transactional backlogs: Hardly the best way to spend money.
As with other shared services projects there are real issues about individual borough accountability and the ability of boroughs to design and deliver on their individual visions for the future of their areas.
The report is of course full of typical business jargon, but if you go past that it highlights the challenges members face as more of these plans are evolving in Scottish Authorities. It is important that when meeting with mangers and elected members that we can highlight what has happened elsewhere to avoid costly mistakes being repeated.