Whitehall shared services will take two years to achieve

Defra’s HR chief has admitted that Whitehall’s imminent move to shared services may take two years to become fully operational.

A Treasury report by former Logica boss Martin Read, endorsed in the Budget last month, said up to 30% cost savings could be achieved across government departments and quangos if they adopted a radical re-engineering of back-office functions and introduced central-wide shared services.The plans will put an estimated 6,000 HR jobs at risk.

But, Siobhan Sheridan, HR directoratthe Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), warned that her Department has taken since April 2007 to fully implement shared back-office functions across its HR, payroll, procurement and finance departments.

“The early days of running shared service functions are always challenging, and that’s the same whether it’s in the private sector or public sector,” Sheridan told Personnel Today. But she added that the cost savings and simplified running of back-office functions would prove beneficial in the long run.

Sheridan was brought in from Capital One Bank to help improve the department in 2008 after a critical Whitehall capability review found serious problems with leadership.

Last month the department’s former HR director, Francesca Okosi-Arimah, said Defra’s HR department had often come up against a “brick wall” from the Defra leaders when trying to improve areas like leadership.

Okosi-Arimah said: “The early reviews led to HR casualties and HR held its hands up. But it is about leadership in the organisation too. You can put in all the processes you want in HR, but if there isn’t the commitment to own those decisions by the top leadership team it won’t work.”

Sheridan declined to comment on the criticism, but admitted leadership was a priority on her change agenda.

“As with every organisation, there is always more work to do on leadership and on development of leadership,” she said. “But I’ve had a very positive experience of working with the leadership team here in Defra so far.”

She added that she was also using employee engagement surveys and the annual Investors In People review as a way of diagnosing leadership problems.

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