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Briefing 10: Shared Services


Shared Services describes the centralisation of certain transactional processes e.g. personnel records, payroll, finance, customer service, etc. Transactional services are those administrative procedures common to many departments, which can be carried out using new technology.

Shared Services often use call centre technologies, and this can either be done in house, or by outsourcing to external companies.


Government Position

March 1999 - Government White Paper - Modernising Government, looked at improved delivery of public services to give:

  • joined up, responsive services
  • more efficient and cost effective.

People are growing used to services that are available when they want them, so the government aims to make public services in national and local government, the NHS and related services, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, where demand exists.

Scottish Executive Response

In December 1999 Jack McConnell, then Minister of Finance, outlined the Scottish Executive's response when he launched the 21st Century Government for Scotland, followed up in February 2000 by the Modernising Government Fund. In December 2000 Angus Mackay awarded £26m from the Fund to 36 projects from which "high quality innovative projects would improve provision of a range of services to the public", creating savings, "to release more resources for frontline services".

Most councils in Scotland submitted successful bids, in conjunction with health authorities, government agencies and the voluntary and private sectors. Examples of projects involve:

  • customer service centres/call centres;
  • cross agency working
  • multi-agency work/service centres;
  • co-location of agencies, information kiosks, etc.

Private Sector

Shared Services is increasingly being used for HR provision throughout the private sector, with Scottish Power being the most recent to outsource this work to CSC Scotland. Many companies are preparing to offer to manage Shared Services to public sector organisations.


The Case FOR

A major driver for centralisation into call centres is the introduction of new technology, both through the use of call centres and the internet enabling many administrative functions to be performed online.

The Government's Call Centre Working Group has identified three benefits from moving to call centre operations:

  • Better service – less form filling, quicker decisions, immediate answers to questions, less travelling, wider access, e.g. evening and weekend working.
  • Greater effectiveness – reduced mistakes, problems resolved by dialogue rather than posting forms,
  • Cost savings – reduction in space through centralised accommodation, reduction of work through less transactions, fewer staff needed, more effective utilisation of staff time by control and supervision processes


Shared Services can lead to a whole range of difficulties that need constant monitoring. Trade union involvement is essential to alleviating these difficulties, which include:

  • Less personal service, both for users and for the staff
  • Loss of experienced staff and their knowledge
  • Devaluation of the essential administrative tasks staff undertake
  • Devaluation of the service provided in the eyes of the public.
  • Blurring of boundaries between the professional staff and administrative support staff.
  • Complex delivery of public services needs staffing by people who understand the working of the whole organisation
  • De-skilling of administrative staff can lead to their de-motivation and a high turnover.
  • Not all of the new technologies are proven and that can often come at a high cost.
  • Particular problems that cannot be resolved at the front line have to be shifted to a line manager.

UNISON'S guide to good practice in call centres, entitled On Line Advice highlights many of the difficulties, and produces negotiator checklists for stewards' use. It emphasises Health and Safety issues, such as rest breaks and ergonomics for using information technology.

Branch Action

  • Be aware of any plans in your workplace to create call/customer service centres through combining services.
  • Make plans to study the proposals and protect the workforce.
  • Ensure that guidelines in On Line Advice are followed.

For Further Information

UNISON Booklet: Online Advice: A negotiators Guide to Good Employment Practice in Call Centres

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