NAO shared service report reveals deeper challenge for Whitehall

“Most departmental customers have not acted as ‘intelligent customers’ and they will need to build in-house capability with enough business and technical understanding to manage the services and work with the Centres to achieve efficiencies.”

Efficiency and reform in government corporate functions through shared service centres, National Audit Office (NAO)

Whitehall cannot afford such a headline when the public wants to see clear value for money. As our open letter to the dual heads of the Civil Service has said, it is a tough time for those driving change through Whitehall, with a reduced headcount and a major policy programme to implement.

But, as IfG Director Peter Riddell has said, it can and must fix these urgent issues. Leadership from the top team in the Civil Service is the key to success. The Cabinet Office has now taken ownership for making shared services work, according to the NAO, but this issue highlights some of the deeper problems that need addressing in Whitehall.

This week Sir Jeremy Heywood and Sir Bob Kerslake, with Francis Maude, responded to our open letter detailing how to make the Civil Service work more effectively as it faces new pressures.

They all agreed that a lack of cross government management information and financial management expertise is a huge barrier to not being able to assess progress or know they are getting value for money.

Sir Jeremy and Sir Bob agreed that they now need shared objectives between permanent secretaries and that they were now taking working closely with newly appointed boards to drive change, with Non Executive Directors (NEDS) having a key role.  

The top team however know that it will be a tough road ahead, and could take several more years to achieve the savings and efficiencies it needs to. These issues have, as our open letter says, now become urgent and will require more than a few tweaks around the edges.  

Efficiency and reform in government corporate functions through shared service centres: National Audit Office (NAO)