University HR professional association rejects shared-services plan

Any government proposals to force universities to share HR teams will be strongly opposed by the Universities Personnel Association.

Last week, Ian Watmore, permanent secretary at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), told MPs that he was considering the move to help the department hit its target of £1.5bn in efficiency savings by March 2011.

“We are looking at shared-service centres between universities to save £150m over three years,” he told a Commons select committee.

DIUS has decided to find a third of its savings from its further education budget, and has earmarked shared services as a key way of achieving this, a spokesman for the department told Personnel Today. Merging HR departments was one possible way of finding savings, he added.

However, Sheila Gupta, vice-chairwoman of the Universities Personnel Association, which represents practitioners in higher education, slammed the idea. “I cannot see how any such model would work,” she said.

“There are about 160 higher education institutions in the UK. Each will have different missions, strategic plans and employment policies,” Gupta said. “A single service centre would not be viable.”

DIUS also plans to use Whitehall shared-service centres to cancel out the cost of hiring scores of new officials, Watmore told the committee. He said the department started with about 750 members of staff and planned to hire between 100 and 150 more without increasing spending. “We think we will [be able to] lay off these costs by applying a broad shared-service approach to back-office functions,” he said. “The costs will be absorbed into the existing budget.”

Skills secretary John Denham told the committee that the department had a big enough budget to meet its skills targets.

He also dismissed suggestions that the department should have included the word ‘science’, claiming he had also been under pressure to use the word ‘colleges’, which would have led to the department being known by the acronym DISCUS.

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