Shared Services – Making it Work for Our Council

Earlier today the Performance and Finance Overview & Scrutiny Board signed off their review of Shared Services.  This  work was started last October and conducted through a small task and finish group of councillors.  You can find the final report of the review, and the findings report detailing all the evidence collected, on our reports library page here.

Why This Matters

I don’t think it is possible to overstate the importance of the shared services agenda at the moment.  Financial pressures mean that councils need to find innovative ways of saving money and of ensuring service quality – sharing services with other councils and with partner agencies is one way of doing this.   It may not be the most glamorous sounding issue but it could have big implications for the public services that people receive in Swansea.

The pace of change around this still new agenda is picking up.  Even whilst our report was being finalised reports on shared services were published by the Local Government Association and the NLGN.  Only last week the Welsh Assembly Government published Local, Regional, National: What services are best delivered where?– a review of local government service delivery, including shared services. 

I like to think that this Swansea report offers something different to the others.   It combines the view from an individual council with a Welsh perspective – hopefully it is complimentary, particularly to the Welsh Assembly Government report.

What Evidence was Collected?

We have collected together all the evidence gathered by the task and finish group and put it in the findings report.  I have blogged before about the presentation on the Gwent Frailty Project and the Focus Group with partners.  As well as an initial research report and evidence from Council officers, the group also met with Sara Harvey (Welsh Local Government Association) who supports the South West Wales Regional Partnership Forum, Will MacClean who works with the Welsh Assembly Government Efficiency and Innovation Board and Dorothy Edwards and Susan Cooper from ABM Health Trust and Bridgend County Borough Council respectively.

What Does the Report Say?

Broadly speaking the report offers advice to Swansea Council on how it might get the most out of shared services – maximise the advantages and avoid the pitfalls.  It is not so much making proposals about specific services (although it does make some suggestions) as proposing the types of things that the Council might do to ensure a more effective overall approach.  The report offers seven conclusions with linked recommendations.  Here is my short summary of each:

  1. Be clear about what a shared service project is– There doesn’t seem to be one widely accepted definition of what a shared service actually is so the task and finish group have proposed one and are asking the Council to use it to ensure consistency.  The definition they came up with is:  ‘A clearly defined and distinctive service, where risk and responsibility is shared between organisations, in order to improve services for both the user and the provider.  A shared service will have at least one of the following characteristics; a single management structure; a pooled budget; or a shared asset.’
  2. Focus attention on those projects with the highest chance of success– The group heard a lot of evidence that different types of project are more likely to work in some settings better that others.  So, for example, a cost saving project might work best between councils whereas a service improving project might work best between partners.  The group want the Council to bear this in mind.  The group are also keen to see staff involved in identifying new projects as this will also increase the chances of success.
  3. Invest strategically in relationships with project partners– Everyone who spoke to the group stressed the importance of relationships -between organisations and on a personal level.   Investing in relationships will help ensure projects are successful, help coordinate the many national initiatives on the ground and help to identify new projects.  To this end the group is suggesting that the Council sets up specific mechanisms with neighbouring councils and through Swansea’s Local Service Board (strategic partnership). 
  4. Be clear about the costs and benefits for each partner at the start – This issue is important for any project but the group felt that shared services are a special case.  Benefits in particular are a challenging issue – when it is about saving money by having fewer posts the benefits should be easy to predict but changing work practices, for example, might not bring about the benefits that partners expect.  The group would like the Council to spend time doing some work on this  so that everyone can have confidence at the start of a project about what the benefits are likely to be and what the risks are for each type of benefit.   The group are also proposing that every major project has its business case tested by scrutiny before starting.
  5. Get the governance right – Leadership and engagement were also almost universally mentioned in the evidence to the group.  Following from this the suggestion is that every major project should have both an officer sponsor at director level and a cabinet member as a political champion.
  6. Ensure that project and programme planning is robust– Because shared service projects are different to other types of project that the Council deals with, the group believes that specialised support and advice should be available for those working to make them happen.
  7. Ensure that corporate monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are in place– The group felt it was important to keep a track on any projects but, rather than putting new systems in place, to do this through the systems that the Council already has for monitoring performance.  Finally, and perhaps the easiest idea to implement, the group felt that a simple list of projects, published on the Council’s website and staff intranet, would help improve awareness and accountability as well as providing valuable info for those thinking about what new projects might be possible.

What Next?

Now that the report has been agreed by the Board it will go to a Cabinet meeting in the next couple of months when the relevant cabinet member will give their response to the recommendations.  Then, in the months following that, the Board will follow up on the recommendations that have been accepted – hopefully then some benefits to this review will start be be seen.


  1. […] Performance & Finance Overview & Scrutiny Board completed its review of Shared Services, ‘What’s the Best Way to Deliver Savings & Improvements through Shared Services&#8217…in April 2011.  At that time, the process was to submit the report to Cabinet and for the Cabinet […]

Leave a Comment


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.