11 January 2012
Local authorities increasingly have to find new ways to deliver services to address the continual negative financial climate we find ourselves in.
For many it will be the beginning of a journey that could see existing support services teams reduced in number as authorities focus on core services, services delivered via third parties in bundled or TFM contracts or established under trading umbrellas such as local authority trading companies - initially supported but with a business model to be a standalone commercial entity within a few years.
For other authorities it will be the evolution of a tested and refined model already in place but now needing to change to reflect the funding difficulties, this could be a movement from a contract management team to a "thin client" commissioning and strategy team, allowing our partners to shoulder the BAU and deliver more of the front line service to the users.
One model that's growing in pace and emerging as a preferred solution in my sector is a shared service model (or centres). This requires non-competitive similar organisations such as charities, health and statutory bodies to pool their collective service needs with a view to driving out efficiencies, making savings and improving or enhancing capability. The pooled services tend to be the high-volume support activities such as IT, HR and facilities, in addition to assets such as equipment and buildings, with some big examples already under way across central government and having been around in the private sector since the early 1990s. The jury is out on whether the model works in all sectors and whether the intended objectives are tracked and fixed sufficiently to be evaluated over what can be long periods of time.
From my experience so far, I would suggest that, as a starting point, it's crucial that the "sharing organisations" are starting from a similar place, or at the very least capable of being in the same place fairly easily. This is easier said than done and often requires significant upheaval and incurred upfront costs that aren't obvious. For example, three councils might bring to the table a pretty similar service need but find out that they are poles apart in terms of their specific structures, one being in-house, one being part-outsourced and one being strategic for example, getting to a similar place will result in a huge level of commitment and that's presuming there's agreement on what the shared service model will look like and do.
It's also highly likely that there will be differing mindsets, differing degrees of protectionism and possibly over time different leadership and turnover, bearing in mind that this can take many years. But (and it's a big but) we shouldn't give up - there are potentially huge gains to be made and huge contributions that we as shared-service professionals can contribute to the corporate need. Our contributions are really important during this period and although difficult for many of us, we should take every opportunity to explore what can be achieved by this new buzz in facilities.
Finbarr Murray is head of facilities management at London Borough of Croydon
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