Cambridgeshire County Council provides social services, education and environmental services to a population of 590,000. It has an annual budget of £570m, including its direct schools grant, and employs 18,000 staff.
The council had implemented an e-business web tool from Oracle to handle most of its IT, HR and payroll transactions. However, the continuing need for upgrades was becoming increasingly costly, and the council wanted to make savings. It hit upon the idea of developing a shared-service model, which would not only save money through efficiencies, but could also generate revenue by being sold on to other public service bodies.
In 2006, the council started exploring the potential to create a shared-services arrangement. It found a willing partner in neighbouring Northamptonshire County Council, which saw an opportunity to gain access to an e-business suite without having to go through a costly procurement and implementation process.
The councils are investing up to £2.7m in the project, including significant system upgrades to enhance the service for future customers. The implementation took place over a period of 18 months and the sharing arrangement went live in June 2008.
The project was handled by Cambridgeshire's director of people and policy, Stephen Moir, who believes it goes much further than other shared-service arrangements between local councils.
"A lot of shared-service models tend to be just partnership arrangements or outsourcing under a different name," he says. "But we have genuinely been able to create common processes and support teams running the systems on behalf of both organisations. That has significantly reduced costs of the transactions and helped us make better use of our technology."
Being a 'virtual' arrangement meant there was less upheaval than there might have been. "It's built around technology, so it doesn't involve picking up a whole load of employees and transplanting them into a single shared-service centre in another part of the country," Moir says.