Orbis started as a procurement sharing arrangement between East Sussex and Surrey County Councils in 2012.
The partnership was formalised under an Inter-Authority Agreement in April 2015, with Brighton and Hove City Council becoming the third founding partner in May 2017.
Today, 2,000 employees work under a joint operating budget of £63m, making Orbis one of, if not the, largest local government shared service partnership in the UK.
The Collaborate to Integrate Model
The partnership’s aim is to deliver operational savings in the region of 20% against its 2015/16 baseline, and be fully integrated by April 2019.
Although it’s still early on in the programme, Orbis has already exceeded expectations by generating £4.5m of efficiency savings in 16/17, surpassing financial targets by £3.4m. These initial savings have largely been achieved through a 25% reduction in senior management posts through de-layering and reduction in duplication.
Our Collaborate to Integrate model (see table below) has been central to the successful delivery of the programme. It is based on the 5Cs model which separates the journey towards convergence into 5 key stages: contact, cooperation, coordination, collaboration and finally convergence.
Each of Orbis’ seven service areas has different complex challenges to work through in order to achieve service integration across the three councils. The Orbis leadership team recognised from the start that it would be impossible to deliver a ‘one size fits all’ approach to integration. Instead they decided to empower each function to find their own way of achieving integrated budgets by April 2018 and service integration by April 2019. This has allowed each area to move at its own pace.
In practice, this means that each service is at a different stage of the programme. Some areas of Orbis’ finance and procurement functions are now fully integrated within the service, whilst others are still standardising processes and instigating joint ways of working.
Property and revenues & benefits functions are still in the ‘contact’ stage and are only just starting to establish commonalities and differences between their services.
IT & digital are establishing the foundations of collaborative working for everyone in Orbis through rolling out Outlook 365 and Skype for Business, and setting up wi-fi access across all sites.
Business operations are starting to build relationships, share information and identify opportunities for shared working.
HR & OD have built relationships and are now moving towards creating shared goals and working on joint projects.
Meeting shared service peers
Over the last two years, Orbis has focused on building a solid foundation for the partnership. We have learnt a lot about creating a local government shared service partnership as a result and recently participated in a Shared Services Summit with our peers from Onesource and LGSS, hosted by the LGA.
This industry think tank provided invaluable insight into lessons learned and ideas for overcoming common challenges. A follow up session is planned for later in the year.
Although we did meet with these organisations before Orbis was officially formed, in hindsight we could have done more to engage with and learn from these organisations before embarking on our shared services journey.
Providing systems integration across three councils has proven to be our biggest obstacle. We were aware of this challenge from the off-set, however, deeper investigative work initially could have helped each service area to fully understand the extent of the complexities which lay ahead of them. Working in partnership provides many complex challenges that need to be overcome.
This is especially difficult in local government due to the differing politics and cultures within the sovereign organisations. Overcoming this, or the ability to operate effectively despite these challenges, will ensure the success of the partnership in the long term.
Our approach to collaborative working has already received industry recognition, with Orbis winning an Organisational Excellence Award for culture, being highly commended at the Public Services People Managers Association Awards, and being awarded a runner up prize for collaboration at the Institute of Continuous Improvements in the Public Sector Awards.
Please download the PDF Article to see Adrian’s table of steps in the Orbis Collaboration To Integration journey.