A fundamental review of the oneSource shared service partnership, to consider its effectiveness and its ability to trade its services was undertaken.
oneSource is a local government-based organisation, with a board made up of Members from the London Boroughs of Newham, Havering and, previously, Bexley. It provided a broad range of 22 corporate services to the three London boroughs. These services included both strategic and support services for all areas of Finance, HR, ICT, Asset Management, Legal and Governance, Exchequer and Business Services. It had been in operation since April 2014 (Bexley joining in April 2016). It covered over a thousand staff who remained employed by their original councils.
oneSource had ambitions to expand to provide corporate services to other public sector bodies in the future. Its vision was to be the ‘one source of innovative support and affordable quality of these services delivered to public services’. It operated as a virtual organisation with staff based where the customer required but aimed more and more to operate virtually. It stated that there were already other organisations in discussion with oneSource about working in partnership and buying its services and the starting point of the review was to understand whether there was a market for its services and if so, was it a commercially viable and scalable proposition.
The review therefore began by analysing and understanding the service from a number of dimensions, to gain a full picture of its strategic direction. The most important amongst these was a clear and transparent picture of its financial model and a view of the quality of the services from a customer perspective, to understand whether fundamental needs were being met. These requirements for the service therefore fell broadly into two categories of consideration – financial and performance.
From the information and data gathering onwards it became clear that there was no true picture of the costs to deliver the service. Council and company costs were mixed and there was no consistent way of accounting for the services that were delivered. The quality of oneSource financial data, financial controls and reporting meant that it was difficult for individual teams and for the leadership to manage and fully control the budget and expenditure. Further to this, analysis and allocation of on-costs could not be calculated to represent the true overheads rather than a ‘blanket’ allocation which did not represent good practice.
Engagement with key stakeholders, customers and an analysis of performance data also revealed that there was at best an absence of clarity on the levels of service that were being delivered. Levels of satisfaction of performance were low and perceived not to meet customer needs. There was a lack of trust and a feeling that oneSource did not communicate well or work with the Councils to understand their needs and strategic priorities.
The review made many detailed recommendations with a key finding being that the strategic priority of oneSource should be on the provision of its services to the Partner Councils and continuous improvement in service delivery, especially in priority areas of ICT, finance, HR and asset management. Whilst there was support for the achievement of external income this should not be to the detriment of the provision of services to the Partner Councils.
The review recognised the need for an Improvement Plan (effectively a ‘turnaround’ plan) and that before focusing on an ability to trade and generate external income, the organisation needed to ensure that it was delivering the best possible service to its existing owner organisations. oneSource has now adopted an Improvement Plan which is focused on three key areas.
Strategic Presence & Impact
- Providing high quality and proactive professional input at senior level to support the corporate and political leadership of the Partner Councils.
- Providing professional options and direction, especially to the Chief Executive and section 151 officers.
- Providing a direct strategic input in key decisions, programmes and activities in each Council.
- Working proactively to provide effective internal control and governance.
Communications, Culture & Brand
- Improving communications on performance and delivery.
- Promoting direct communications and working between oneSource and Partner Council teams, members and staff.
- Working as partners, not as a contractor/client relationship.
- Rebranding oneSource to reflect the focus on delivery to Partner Councils but retaining the successful and recognised brand externally and commercially.
- Improved performance in all areas.
- Focus on improving four priority areas.
- Demonstrating improvement through agreed performance standards and indicators.
- Strong satisfaction from officers and members in all Partner Councils.