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Sharing toys or sharing services: what’s the difference?

Natasha Veenendaal
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Shared services are becoming more common across the public sector. It is unlikely that local authorities can function in the future unless they work more collaboratively with their neighbouring service providers.

Sharing can come with great rewards if you can get it right, but anyone who has small children will know that sharing is hard. My daughters are five and three; they understand that sharing is a good thing, but often the word ‘share’ is barked as an order by my three-year-old who wants something for herself, and my older daughter is reluctant to give it up. The older one doesn’t mind sharing for a bit, but she is suspicious the toy will not be returned in good time or in the same state, so she thinks it’s better just to retain control.

My conversations with local authorities over the last year have revealed the pitfalls to be overcome in their shared service programmes are unfortunately sometimes not so different from childhood squabbles. Shared services need to be built on trust, with a good understanding of each other’s values and aims.

As Ed Garcez, chief information officer and chief digital officer at, Camden, Haringey and Islington Shared Service, put it: “Shared services are about complex relationships. Fundamentally, we need to ask ourselves ‘Are we willing to compromise?’ There is a level of due-diligence required to ensure that all parties go into the relationship with their eyes wide open, and a need to maintain transparency as the relationship develops.”

As a result of our research, the Eduserv Executive Briefing Programme has developed a free assessment tool. The Readiness Assessment for a Shared service Programme (RASP) allows local authorities to understand the extent to which their organisation is ready to collaborate with others in a shared service programme. It can also be used as a ‘health-check’ or to assess the inclusion of a new partner in an existing shared service.

The online tool has been developed in partnership with Socitm and is based on the experience and insight of around 50 senior level decision makers from local authorities who have been involved in delivering shared service programmes.

RASP assesses readiness for shared services by going through a set of in-depth diagnostic questions in five areas:

  • Shared vision – the extent to which there is wider buy-in for the planned project, political backing, a detailed understanding of what will be shared and agreement on which areas of best practice will be absorbed in the partnership.
  • Ethos and cultures – looking at structure, identity, skills and who will lead in specific areas of the shared services.
  • Treatment of resources – understanding and agreeing which assets, costs and benefits will be shared.
  • Risk management – reviewing existing IT estate, skills and contracts and mapping out capacity for change.
  • Governance – covering success measures, leadership and decision models, legal basis for work.

One of the first authorities to use the tool, in its beta form, is Southwark LBC.

“We used to the Eduserv RASP tool to evaluate Southwark’s move towards a shared service with Lewisham and Brent,” says Emma Marinos, director of modernise, Southwark LBC.

“The programme manager for each council completed the assessment. Not only did it really help the team identify weak points, it also made sure that they asked themselves a broader range of questions; not just focusing on the technology but understanding that shared services are about culture and relationships.”

Please do start using the tool (click here for access), and get in touch if you have any questions or think there are areas for improvement. It’s important that we get shared services right. There are many opportunities to be had and these partnerships need to succeed to ensure time and money is well spent.

And if anyone has any suggestions to stop two small girls arguing over ‘flower bunny’ that would be welcome too.

Natasha Veenendaal, Executive Briefing Programme Manager, Eduserv

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