Whitehall focus Shared services agenda restarted

2 Mar 06
David Rowland, the permanent secretary at the Department for Transport, has been asked by the Treasury to co-ordinate Whitehall's latest attempt at a multi-billion pound savings drive through shared services.

03 March 2006

David Rowland, the permanent secretary at the Department for Transport, has been asked by the Treasury to co-ordinate Whitehall's latest attempt at a multi-billion pound savings drive through shared services.

Rowland's office this week confirmed to Public Finance that he has been 'tasked by the chief secretary to the Treasury [Des Browne] with driving forward the Whitehall Two agenda,' and would look at ways of co-ordinating shared services across ten departments.

Whitehall Two is the Cabinet Office's latest attempt to kick-start its stalled shared services programme; part of the government's plan to make billions of pounds in efficiency savings through merging 'back office' functions.

Last year, a proposed shared human resources project across three departments – the Cabinet Office, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Treasury – was pulled after a review team at the Office of Government Commerce warned that it would not achieve the required critical mass of users and savings.

Now Rowland has been asked to formalise proposals to share HR, finance and IT functions across the departments for Constitutional Affairs; Education & Skills; Health; Trade & Industry; Culture, Media & Sport; Cabinet Office; ODPM; OGC; Treasury; and the Office for National Statistics.

Whitehall sources told PF that Rowland would report back to Browne at the Treasury and the Cabinet Office, where the wider shared services agenda is led by David Myers.

One senior official said: 'The feeling is that Rowland has been asked to lead on Whitehall Two because the DfT is not one of the ten organisations involved, so he would be best placed to be frank and direct about what could and couldn't be achieved.'

Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell is likely to view the scope of Whitehall Two positively. At a recent conference, OGC chief executive John Oughton told PF that too many of the shared services centres originally proposed were too small. 'The business case for them all can't work,' he warned.

OGC officials estimate that up to 25% of staff costs could be shaved off Whitehall's bills if managers were able to co-ordinate effective shared services.

FCO mobile 'spent £600,000 calling the Pacific'

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has admitted that it has been defrauded of half a million pounds following the theft of mobile phones that were sent to Iraq in 2003 but eventually traced through numbers in the South Pacific two years later.

Sir Michael Jay, permanent secretary at the FCO, has told MPs that the fraud, initially uncovered last autumn, is still under investigation. But he revealed for the first time the extent of the 'theft'.

Richard Bacon, Conservative member of the Public Accounts Committee, this week told Public Finance that MPs were 'astounded', and demanded a full explanation 'as to why FCO staff continued to pay the phone bills for 17 months'.

Jay told the PAC in late February that the total loss was £594,000 following the theft of two phones sent to British Embassy staff in Baghdad in October 2003. He called for the committee's investigation to be held in private, but a full transcript of the discussion was published this week.

'Those two phones ran up… very substantial bills over the next 17 months,' Jay explained, acknowledging that departmental controls 'did not work properly'. 'It was almost as though they were taken and used as some kind of phone booth at the end of a street.'

The phones appear to have been used to call premium rate lines similar to those used for betting or adult chat lines.

'One of the phones… seems to have been on all the time, to a number in the Wallis and Futuna Islands, which are French dependencies in the Pacific.'

PAC chair Edward Leigh said that the FCO's effective provision of Baghdad phone booths 'gives a whole new meaning to winning hearts and minds in Iraq'.

The FCO said auditors had since acted to ensure that all mobile phones were monitored.

Team up to cut child obesity, says report

The government's target to halt the rise in obesity in children under 11 by 2010 is being compromised by the failure of departments to work together, a report from three watchdogs said this week.

The report, by the National Audit Office, Healthcare Commission and Audit Commission, said the government needs to offer more guidance to back up the good work carried out at local level.

The number of obese children under ten has increased from 9.6% in 1995 to 13.7% in 2003. The overall cost of obesity to the NHS is around £1bn.

The target, the joint responsibility of the departments of Health, Education & Skills and Culture, Media & Sport, was set in July 2004.

The report recommends greater clarity and direction from central government, better definition of regional roles and responsibilities, strengthening local partnerships and better information and training.

Healthcare Commission chief executive Anna Walker said: 'If we are serious about tackling childhood obesity then all government agencies and organisations must work together more effectively.'


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