Friday, 10 June 2011

Public service factories are not the key to reforming public services, says UNISON

UNISON, Scotland’s largest public service union, today warned of the high cost of setting up ‘public service factories’ in a bid to save councils cash.

The union said shared services are not providing the answer to modernising public services and warned that services will suffer as a result of the top-down approach to change.

Dave Watson, UNISON’s Scottish Organiser, said: “Co-operation between public services is essential, but that doesn’t mean setting up vast public service factories or bringing in the private sector. Shared services are often pushed by private consultants as a way to improve services and save money. However, these schemes come with huge upfront costs and evidence shows that initial savings are not delivered in many cases – so we would warn against the belief that there is a pot of gold to be released through shared services.”

The drive towards shared services, both within organisations and between them, is based on economies of scale and a view that front and back office functions should be separated. However, there is increasing evidence from the UK and internationally that this approach is wrong. Few services actually delivered in this way have realised the claimed savings and real costs are simply displaced onto frontline services. There is also a massive increase in transactional costs as systems drive activity rather than addressing user demand. UNISON believes services should be organised so that staff who meet users are able to deal with most of their needs, without artificially splitting the work up.

The union has also been critical of the Clyde Valley Review, which has involved no consultation with either trade unions or with the staff who deliver services.

He continued: “Bright ideas are never the result of discussions which take place in a darkened room. For positive changes to happen, managers have to adopt a bottom-up approach and involve staff in decision making.

“Job concerns are sometimes hailed as the reason for shared service failings, however, this is simply not the case. We fully support partnership working and efficient delivery of services, however, we are sceptical as to whether this type of shared service will deliver savings and, most importantly, whether it will deliver a better service.”

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