Efficiency Reviews and Shared Services

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2007 Local Government Service Group Conference
16 June 2007

Conference deplores the fact that efficiency reviews across the UK are leading to a deterioration in the delivery of public services. Conference believes that these so-called “efficiencies” mask the effects of inadequate funding of local government and deplores the negative impact on services, staff and users.

Stringent efficiency targets have been set in all four countries of the UK. Many of the savings so far have come from job losses, cuts to adult social care and corporate services, through more outsourcing and the introduction of tougher sickness absence policies.

Services and staff should be democratically accountable to the communities they serve, but councils are expected to tackle these financial shortfalls by introducing shared services, or (in England) by merging into unitary authorities. Tom McCabe, Minister for Finance and Local Government speaks openly about 32 heads of service being too many for a country of 5 million people: Local Government in Scotland may be restructured once again.

Shared services are a key challenge facing local government staff.

As part of the ongoing Efficient Government Initiative for Scotland the Scottish Executive published a consultation paper A Shared Approach to Building a Better Scotland – A consultation paper on a National Strategy for Shared Services. This paper aims to improve service delivery and cut costs. The Executive’s stated aim is for “Public Sector organisations in Scotland to receive their common business support services from a small number of highly professional, customer focussed, national and/or regional shared service operations”.

Shared services are also a centre-piece of the ‘Strong and prosperous communities’ White Paper in England; they are encouraged in Wales by the ‘Beyond Boundaries’ review; and are being promoted in Northern Ireland as part of the Review of Public Administration. Public service organisations are already implementing these changes.

Shared services may appear to be more economically ‘efficient’, but are remote from local accountability and often result in contracting out and offshoring. Moving work away from a local area also threatens jobs and damages the local economy. European procurement rules mean that the provision of shared services could be opened up to tender and therefore to privatisation.

These proposals have serious long term implications for UNISON members. They could find their post transferred to another employer for example a new body delivering a service to a number of local authorities. Not only does this affect terms and conditions of employment but the post could be relocated to another area or employer.

UNISON wants to see well funded, efficient and joined-up services which are publicly owned and managed and which meet the needs of all users. These should be provided by valued, well-trained and properly paid staff.

Conference therefore calls on the Local Government Service Group Executive to:

1)Work with other parts of UNISON to ensure that, while across the UK we face different challenges, we maintain a unified approach

2)Continue to identify the impact of efficiency savings on the quality of services and on the jobs of UNISON members

3)Publicise our findings and facilitate the sharing of information on the shared services agenda

4)Ensure members are fully informed of the challenges others face

5)Help develop local strategies to respond to the shared services agenda involving a number of branches

6)Campaign for savings made through efficiency reviews to be put back into improved services and decent terms and conditions for employees

7)Support campaigning and develop bargaining support to ensure that any efficiencies gained through Shared Services are not at the expense of members’ jobs or terms and conditions

8)Campaign for the Government’s review of Best Value to strengthen and extend the scope of the Best Value Code of Practice on Workforce Matters and monitor its implementation

9)Issue branch guidance on dealing with shared services and efficiency reviews

10)Ensure that Regions hold joint branch seminars on dealing with shared services and efficiency reviews in conjunction with the Service Group

11)Support lawful industrial action called in accordance with UNISON’s industrial action procedure where branches are campaigning against loss of jobs, cuts in pay and loss of conditions of service threatened by efficiency reviews or the establishment of shared services

12)Considers how it can assist in ensuring the necessary resources are available to deliver on this agenda.