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Do shared services partners need an exit plan from the start?

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When reading about a celebrity marriage that includes a pre-nup to protect the parties’ assets, one gets the impression of a relationship that is not built on trust. Surely if they were really committed they would not need to have an exit plan?

At a recent Briefing Programme shared services meeting - with a group of local government CIOs - the marriage analogy was used by one participant to highlight why councils shouldn’t have an exit plan. This individual’s view was instead they should decide from the beginning to commit to build a permanent relationship.

However, this view about exit plans is not shared by all. Particularly, those I have met who bear the scars of a shared service that didn’t go the distance, wish there had been better planning for coming out of the relationship, or at least a better sense of the consequences.

Breaking down a shared service is a complicated and expensive undertaking. However, if benefits of sharing - such as economies of scale - are to be truly realised then the partnership needs to be properly ‘bolted together’ in a way that will inevitably be expensive and complicated to unpick. So perhaps it’s about finding a middle ground. It may not be practical to have a solid exit ‘plan’, but a difficult conversation at the start, and a true realisation of the commitment required, should be part of the assessment of whether to work together.

Like marriage, relationships between public sector organisations are complicated. It’s not just about a business case but politics, people and culture. A relationship must be built trust - or at least an understanding of the level of trust that exists. Compromise is required, and perhaps having that ‘pre-nup’ will make all parties feel more comfortable, but it will only be effective if underpinned by a much wider assessment to quantify risks and potential issues.

What is clear from our meetings is that shared services are becoming increasingly important in the current climate. It is unlikely that local authorities can function in the future unless they work more collaborative with neighbouring service providers. There is, and will continue to be, new pressure from central government to join services together locally, and as one participant put it ‘we need to take control of that agenda, because it’s going to happen anyway’.

The Eduserv Executive Briefing Programme is working on a ‘Readiness Assessment for a Shared Service Programme’ tool that will bring together the findings and discussions with almost 40 local authority CIOs. This tool maps out the areas that partners should consider when embarking on and during a shared services programme. It will be made freely available for self-assessment.

The Local Government Executive Briefing Programme (EBP) is a not-for-profit initiative aimed to increase sector-wide understanding of how digital can help to ensure the future of public services.

 

Natasha Gwilliam, Executive Briefing Programme manager, Eduserv - contact natasha.gwilliam@eduserv.org.uk

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