Shared services in public sector fails to make headway owing to workforce opposition

Lack of communication with staff is preventing public sector employers from making their HR departments more efficient, the local government efficiency agency has admitted.

Siobhan Coughlan, principal consultant at the Improvement and Development Agency, accepted that opposition by the workforce had dramatically slowed attempts to streamline back-office functions.

A survey of 178 senior managers in the public sector by law firm Browne Jacobson revealed that more workers were actively opposing the move to shared services than backing it.

“Workforce opposition is a barrier,” said Coughlan. “We underestimate the communication needed and plough along until we hit the barrier – which may be threats of industrial action – and then we have to unpick, go back and start again to properly consult staff.”

The 2004 Gershon Review outlined a vision of public sector bodies sharing back-office departments such as HR and IT, saving money on wages.

But managers told Browne Jacobson that while 23% of their workforces supported the move to shared services, 36% opposed them.

The biggest barrier to implementing shared services effectively is a lack of resources, with two-thirds of managers concerned about the lack of money, and six in 10 saying they don’t have enough people.

Government predictions that public sector employers could save £1.4bn each year by sharing corporate services such as HR and finance were last week branded “flimsy” by the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

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