The government’s timescale for introducing shared services across the public sector has slipped back by five years, a series of reports published today has shown.
The Transformational Government strategy launched by the Cabinet Office last year outlined plans to improve public service delivery through the use of technology, with a sharp increase in shared services a key part of the project.
A series of documents released alongside the annual report on the strategy – which was promised for November, but published today – show a wide variation in progress on shared services at different government departments.
An overarching document on shared services across government says plans will not be completely implemented until 2016 – five years later than set out in the Cabinet Office’s implementation plan for the Transformational Government strategy.
Separate reports from eight segments of government set out a series of target dates for shared services implementation, with the Home Office, Department of Transport and Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs each aiming to have shared back office functions in place by 2011.
The health and defence departments have set out route maps to shared services with shorter timescales, ending in 2009.
But no target dates have been included in the shared services plan for education, where the autonomous status of schools and universities is a major barrier to mandating the use of shared services. The plan for local authorities has been put on hold following the publication of the local government white paper, and is now expected in March.
In contrast, the DWP, which launched a shared services organisation covering finance, human resources and debt services in September, has set out its ambition to become a major provider to other departments. “Our 2010 Vision is to be the leader in the provision of shared services to the DWP and across the public sector," its shared services plan says.
The department may target smaller central government departments, whose plans make clear their interest in sourcing shared services from another government supplier.
The DWP has a poor reputation for implementing major IT projects, however. IT failures were identified as a key factor behind the meltdown of the Child Support Agency, while implementation of a new customer management system for the Jobcentre Plus organisation was described by the Commons Public Accounts Committee as “seriously flawed”. Jobcentre Plus axed its £143m Benefits Processing Replacement Programme (BPRP) while it was still in the development stage, citing problems with the project’s “process” and the impact of welfare benefit reforms.