Date Fri 10 June 2011
Public service factories are not the key to reforming public
services, says UNISON
UNISON, Scotland’s largest public service union, today warned
of the high cost of setting up ‘public service factories’ in
a bid to save councils cash.
The union said shared services are not providing the answer
to modernising public services and warned that services will
suffer as a result of the top-down approach to change.
Dave Watson, UNISON’s Scottish Organiser, said: “Co-operation
between public services is essential, but that doesn’t mean
setting up vast public service factories or bringing in the
private sector. Shared services are often pushed by private
consultants as a way to improve services and save money. However,
these schemes come with huge upfront costs and evidence shows
that initial savings are not delivered in many cases – so we
would warn against the belief that there is a pot of gold to
be released through shared services.”
The drive towards shared services, both within organisations
and between them, is based on economies of scale and a view
that front and back office functions should be separated.
However, there is increasing evidence from the UK and internationally
that this approach is wrong. Few services actually delivered
in this way have realised the claimed savings and real costs
are simply displaced onto frontline services.
There is also a massive increase in transactional costs as
systems drive activity rather than addressing user demand. UNISON
believes services should be organised so that staff who meet
users are able to deal with most of their needs, without artificially
splitting the work up.
The union has also been critical of the Clyde Valley Review,
which has involved no consultation with either trade unions
or with the staff who deliver services.
He continued: “Bright ideas are never the result of discussions
which take place in a darkened room. For positive changes to
happen, managers have to adopt a bottom-up approach and involve
staff in decision making.
“Job concerns are sometimes hailed as the reason for shared
service failings, however, this is simply not the case. We fully
support partnership working and efficient delivery of services,
however, we are sceptical as to whether this type of shared
service will deliver savings and, most importantly, whether
it will deliver a better service.”
Notes to editors
UNISON Scotland’s briefing on shared services is at www.unison-scotland.org.uk/briefings/100611Bargainingbriefingsharedservices.pdf.
The international experience in America and Australia, and
the experience in the rest of the UK, is that the savings rarely
materialise, and when they do they come in the medium to long
term after a lot of capital has been put in to drive the changes.
John Seddon, author of Systems Thinking in the Public Sector,
has outlined many examples of how listening to service users
and staff leads to improved services and cost savings. In one
example, it shows how managers at GHA completely redesigned
their rent arrears system after listening to staff who actually
work on the system - resulting in rent arrears being reduced
by £7.99m. www.systemsthinking.co.uk
The UK National Audit Office report indicates that so far projects
have taken five years to break even. (www.nao.org.uk).
The Clyde Valley Review is a consortium of 8 Clyde Valley councils
(East and West Dunbartonshire, North and South Lanarkshire,
Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire, Glasgow and Inverclyde)
which has been reviewing the potential for shared services.
This review is being led by Sir John Arbuthnott, who has developed
an inverted triangle model to show the costs of services. This
model shows that there are very few savings to be had from ‘back
For further information contact Trisha Hamilton, UNISON’s
Communications Officer, on 0141 342 2877 / 07939 478 461 or
Dave Watson, UNISON’s Scottish Organiser, on 07958 122 409.