The Government has progressed with the delivery of its latest strategy to share back-office services across Whitehall departments in the past year. However, the remaining barriers will need to be addressed for it to deliver its plans by 2028 and achieve value for money, according to the National Audit Office.
After failings from the Government to deliver on the successive shared services strategies, it then launched a new strategy in 2018 that sought to ensure value and efficiency through the movement of cloud-based technologies by 2025, thus standardising processes and data across government.
Due to the slow progression, the Cabinet Office had to revise its approach in 2021, due to the concluded findings that allowing departments to work independently would not deliver its objectives. To fix this issue, grouped Government departments were placed into five delivery “clusters” to simplify the existing methods in which departments operate. Shared service plans are progressing but while some clusters have already begun implementing new systems, others have yet to go to market to start the procurement process.
Taking steps to learn from previous failings, The Cabinet Office is implementing an end-to-end risk management framework that will help it to deliver its ambition as planned. An example of this can be seen through current performance indicators not allowing the Cabinet Office to understand how its Shared Services strategy is progressing overall, including how well departments are doing with data and process convergence.
Clusters have forecast they need £382 million to £403 million to deliver their preferred options in the current Spending Review period up to 2024-25. However, the Treasury only approved a funding package of £300 million. As deadlines for replacing some expiring systems are approaching, there is a concern that some infrastructure will soon be unsupported, increasing the risk of both system failure and additional maintenance costs.
The National Audit Office (NAO) recommends several measures to ensure the transition to a cluster shared service model is a success, such as the Cabinet Office and clusters considering the overall feasibility of delivery. Contingency plans will also be developed to accommodate for funding levels that are not met.
It is also vital for departments working together as clusters to demonstrate how they have learned from previous strategies, with the NAO suggesting that the Cabinet Office should stagger the timing of clusters going out to market, so they do not all begin procurement for IT systems at the same time.
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO said:
“Efficient back-office functions are key to delivering front-line services and reducing costs but, at present, the strategy is not on track to deliver value for money, and it remains unclear what level of financial benefits it will bring. Several fundamental elements of the Government’s latest Shared Services Strategy need to be put in place to ensure its successful delivery.”