At the Core

The United Kingdom National Audit Office has recently released a fascinating study of what it refers to as the “centre of government”.

What is the centre of government?

According to the National Audit Office:

The centre of government has responsibility for coordinating and overseeing the work of government, enabling it to achieve its strategic aims and ensuring there is a central view of the effective operation of government as a whole.

It is because of that definition that this report has unique resonance with any organisation that has a department or role that seeks to maximise efficiencies from taking a central view of how the beast that is an organisation should operate.

Again consistent with the recent experiences of many organisations the push to a more centralised way of operations arose from the austerity challenges of the last decade:

The spending review in 2010 set out a clear challenge to departments to make significant and long-term reductions in spending. It planned that departmental budgets other than health and overseas aid would be cut by an average of 19% over four years. Against this backdrop, the centre introduced several cross-government initiatives and organisational changes designed to help departments make efficiencies, and implement reform in key areas of business activity.

The programmes put in place to implement the review are designed to improve the skills and leadership of finance professionals, and develop common structures for management information and common ways of working. Teams are also working on new tools which use finance information to inform a more strategic view of departments. These tools will be most valuable if the centre has comparable results for all departments before the spending review.

So how has it gone:

The centre has sometimes struggled to work with departments even though this is important to achieve successful transformation. Although there is a high level of agreement from departments on the principle of central coordination in key areas, there has been some resistance from departments to making the changes required. For example, our report on shared service centres found that this led to the first shared service centres having fewer users than anticipated and not achieving the expected economies of scale.

And how will the Departments operate in the new world order:

Departments must make even greater changes in how they work to make the future spending reductions likely to be required of them. They will have to look at their current operating models and change the way in which they provide services.

And this section of the report could be lifted into many an organisation’s future plans:

In particular, they will have to work more collaboratively, pooling resources, and be more flexible and innovative in working through partners and delivering services digitally. Moving to a new way of working will require a new skill set in departments, particularly commercial skills in setting up and managing contracts, and digital skills to handle increasingly more online services. It will also require the right incentives and culture to support innovation and continuous improvement.

To see this report as only a critique on the operations of Her Majesty’s Civil Service is to miss the opportunity that a report of this nature presents.


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