Shared Services. A working model?

Local Government is trying to save money as it has never done before. That of course begs the question  – if the services remain viable after all this cutting why was it not done before? I digress.

Some council’s are joining arms; huddling together. They’re forming small circles to defend against the icy blasts of the Cut, Cut, Cutting gales raging through local government land. Within the opportunities that concept presents in sharing services they are trying to discover savings. Savings usually means losing duplication. And to me that means people.

I spoke recently with the manager of one such service on the east coast of England.

East Lindsey and South Holland District Council’s in Lincolnshire have formed a company, Compass Point Business Services Ltd to share back office services. Chaired by one of the Councillors, Cllr P. PRZYSZLAK, this hybrid commercial/local government venture is seeking to offer similar service provision to that provided by Mouchel Business Services, who provide similar services to Lincolnshire County Council. One assumes, because of its symbiotic relationship with local government, Compass Point  Business Services Ltd won’t have quite the same issues with capital and looking for work. Both will be assured I would guess. Not quite a level playing field in terms of supplier equality.

In a conversation with Martin Payne of Compass Point in late January I asked if there was any intention to merge the web sites of both organisation, or at least to merge the provision. It’s early days yet and it looks like the web is a side issue to be dealt with after the back office merging of Revs & Bens has taken place.

Could you tell me a little about Compass point and how it will work with the web provision of both Councils?

Payne “Before Compass Point was formed East Lindsey moved our web site, back in August 2009 I think, from local hosting to being hosted at South Holland. There’s no major work planned at the moment. We’re using an old version of MS CMS and we would be looking to change this at some point in the future.”

How is the shared service working via a private limited company?

Payne. “ We are not a private limited company. We are owned jointly by East Lindsey and South Holland DC’s. It does get confusing when we talk to suppliers about licensing. We are allowed to look for business from other public service entities like other local authorities etc. but we’re very busy trying to merge the 5 services we have done so far.”

Are you looking outside of the County to sell your services?

Payne. “Definitely. Yes.”

Are you not fettered by Political issues?

Payne. “ this has all come about by attempts to save money. The intention is to save £30m but compass point have the ambition to attract business from other parts of the Country. Initially the intention was to include Boston but that didn’t come about. Perhaps that will change in the next 12 months. Our business model is to provide say Revs and Bens to the other districts, Lincoln for example. The ambition is to grow in that market place.”

How does this fit in with the Lincolnshire wide desire to share IT?

Payne. “ I don’t know if we will be seen as the outsiders. I’m not sure what is going to happen. I’m sure Politics will become involved in those decisions”

How many staff went into Compass point?

Payne. “300 staff went into the business and we are now re-structuring down to a figure of nearer 200 long term.”

Early days indeed and Payne went on to say they were frantic at present sorting everything out.

It will be hard to forecast the outcome for this crossbreed. Will it be a cross between a tiger and a lion or simply a mule. Time will tell but in the interim it will be worth watching. From what I am hearing there is some disquiet in the staff who are going, but that’s not just restricted to this type of partnership I guess. Local Government is in a mess all around.

In the meanwhile Lincolnshire County Council are continuing their long term web partnership with West Lindsey and North Kesteven District Councils. That partnership has been in existence for 5 years or more. The partners share the County CMS, some templates and staff work closely together between County and Districts. The partnership has been quietly delivering savings year on year. And in Lincolnshire became an early demonstration of what shared services could look like.

Jean-Luc, the Borg and LG web sites.

Martha Lane Fox

Some years back DirectGov here was the butt, rightly or wrongly, of many a jibe by local government web officers. Things have changed. They have collected up their skirts and are now running at a pace that can’t be ignored.

Moreover with the governments avowed intent to rip the costs out of just about everything, the pressure for us all to be subsumed by a single giant beast grows. And of course DirectGov is being reviewed at present. My concerns were not helped at all by reading La Lane Fox’s  tweets this week (Martha Lane Fox, she who is doing the review)  where she is commenting about her being immersed in Direct Gov.
Martha’s Tweet

i have now read so many documents about directgov that my brain is melting – time to think now….

1:03 PM Sep 17th via web

As Martha is the Governments web guru you’d be best to take notice of  her sneezes and consider them as possible harbingers of the industry catching a cold.

More on the review of Direct Gov here…

where it says…

“The review of Directgov will focus on four key areas. These are:

  1. central government’s objectives in digital delivery
  2. who should do what?
  3. sharing the platform
  4. trends in digital delivery”

It’s the 2nd and 3rd elements that make me twitch.

Out in the Shires the more forward thinking can see a future where individual ‘district’ sites may be redundant. It’s argued they could become a part of a single whole.

It takes little stretch of even the most unimaginative to see this potential grow into something larger, possibly into a giant pot into which we all place our content. In fact into  As ever it’s the detail that may frustrate the process. The detail in fact in managing that process. Like keeping thousands of marbles together on the deck of a pitching ship. Tricky

Is this a view of an alternative future do you think; a future where we have no individual sites but share our data with a mother brain? Very “Jean Luc and the Borg”.

OK, I’ll give you,  it’s a black view of a strange landscape but one that I wouldn’t gamble on not happening.

Of course there remains a small element of LG web sites difficult to centralise i.e. the Comms element, but I’m sure that’ll not be allowed to stand in the way of the great God “Kostensenkung”. And perhaps that’s how it should be.