Gerald Johnson: Communication vital to success in shared services

Never has a Scottish Government coming back from the summer recess had such a packed agenda. It would be unbefitting of any administration not to seek to hit the ground running in September with a full legislative agenda. But the mood is different this time.

Politicians and the public sector will have to face up to the fact that change – radical change – is coming if they are to sustain essential services in the long term.

Ministers know this because they have spent the summer listening. In June, the Christie Commission followed John McLelland’s review of ICT procurement in signalling the need for a “paradigm change” in public service delivery to one that responds to the expectations of users and taxpayers alike, while preventing problems and achieving the desired outcomes at less cost.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The alternative? Potentially another decade in which services are squeezed between increasing demand and funding shortfalls.

The government appears to be acutely aware that very real concerns persist over the ways to achieve the change. The chief concern, articulated at last week’s Scotsman/Cosla conference on policing, is that key integrated services, such as a single police force, could be less accountable to communities and less responsive to local needs.

This need not be the case. Service providers, including many local authorities, have been looking at the benefits of sharing functions effectively for some time already, with procurement and recruitment being good examples of shared services Scotland-wide.

As Christie rightly pointed out, the common goal is shared services tailored to people’s needs. That means seizing opportunities to learn, innovate and thrive through establishing new and appropriate best practice.

And the only way of doing that effectively is to keep listening and communicating. If they do, the new shared service providers, whether a national police force or a shared HR service, stand to reap both vital cost savings and huge rewards in terms of public trust and engagement.

lGerald Johnson is head of public sector services for Accenture Scotland.