The Wesex Federation


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The Wesex Federation

  1. 1. The Wessex Federation
  2. 2. “Shared services,given what we’ve learned over the last 18 months, strikes us as Robin Gadd almost a Project Director no-brainer The Wessex Federation
  3. 3. IntroductionWhen the financial stability Just five years ago, such was the competition between the Colleges,of your organisation depends some of the Principals involved in the Wessex Federation had yeton the number of learners to meet, and others “barely talked to each other”, remembers Robinyou recruit, it makes sense Gadd, Project Director of the Wessex Federation. So when the ideato keep your competitors of collaborating on the ambitious Wessex Shared Services Projectat arm’s length and your came along, the Principals began by “locking themselves awaysensitive information hidden. in a room for two days”, says Robin Gadd, “until the white smokeOr at least it did. emerged”. This case study details how five Colleges – Bournemouth and Poole, Brockenhurst, Kingston Maurward, Yeovil, and Weymouth – went from restrictive, suspicious competitors to collaborative competitors.The journey and the achievementsRobin recounts three distinct phases to the beginning of their project:    Can we do this?    Should we do this?    How are we going to do this?Phase 1 – Can we do this?For the first six to nine With many options for sharing on the table, this first phase drewmonths the project was to a close with the decision to ‘hone the scope’ of the project, “Wefocused on the Maslovian knew we couldn’t do everything at once”, says Robin Gadd. Thefundamentals of developing final areas chosen to go forward for consideration, though undertrust and friendship. constant review, were: finance, human resources, payroll, exams,Building on the principals’ management information, student records, and procurement.agreement to explore, theteams began to research and‘workshop’ their ideas andthe options for collaboration.Supported by a central,neutral consultant – adecision Robin Gadd feelswas a key element of theproject’s success – the teamsbegan to confront their issuesand differences. Despitemanagers fearing for thesafety of their jobs, theywere given permission to‘think difficult thoughts’ andencouraged to ‘be ambitious’.
  4. 4. Phase 2 – Should we do this?Governors were involved Early wins, however, gave the team the confidence to keep movingthroughout the journey, forward. They began to map key processes in each of the servicesoffering checks and balances under review, but soon realised that this was not about finding andwith essential questions sharing the best practice within the group, it was about innovationsuch as: how much will it and reinvention: the teams were asked, ‘if we were designing thesecost, will it be worth it, and services from scratch, what would we ideally do?’ It was abouthow do you know? Very coming up with a new way; the best way. So while the team lookeddifficult questions to answer, at good practice from both inside and outside of the FE sector, itremembers Robin Gadd: was from a peer Efficiency and Innovation Funded (EIF) project“Finding baseline costs was that they found real traction.extremely difficult because ofthe different organisational “In the Wessex Partnership, we’ve benefitted enormously fromstructures and the constantly the work done in the North East Pathfinder project”, admits Robinshifting numbers of staff Gadd. More details on the North East Shared Services Pathfinderworking in each service”. project (NESSP) can be found on the shared services section of the AoC website: ( As part of the development process the team produced a business case, a blueprint for the infrastructure that would be needed, and an indicative implementation plan to show how all of the activities and services could be harmonised into a single, new, shared business entity. More details of this early work can be found on the shared services section of the AoC website: ( shared-services/materials/project/updates) As with the NESSP project, the Wessex Principals decided they should create a new private company limited by guarantee. This would be wholly owned by the member Colleges, though a separate entity in its own right – the conditions required to fulfil the VAT cost-sharing exemption that was passed in the July 2012 Finance Bill. As the preparations moved forward, the phase 2 question became easier to answer. With, one-off wins amounting to £632,000 through the careful management of vacant posts and the greater efficiencies found through the process re-engineering work, the team found itself at phase 3 – How are we going to do this? “ In the Wessex Partnership, we’ve benefitted enormously from the work done in the North East Pathfinder project
  5. 5. Phase 3 – How are we going to do this?For the project to work, As with other shared service projects, Transfer of UnderstandingsRobin Gadd was clear about (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) and the Localsome other fundamentals: Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) present specific challenges,“Communication matters particularly, as Robin Gadd says, when there are “three differentmore than anything else. schemes, three separate cultures, and three sets of rules!”Communication can’t beone way. It can’t be about As part of the legacy of the Collaboration and Shared Servicesthe management saying Grant Fund, Robin Gadd and his team are producing a guideto the staff, ‘this is what containing “tools for managing change” which will provide detailwe’re going to do and this on how they managed the change process and dealt with cultureis how we’re going to do it’. change, and will include the straw man process maps from theWe want greater security work. Their aim is to provide ideas and techniques on change thatand greater ownership by can be used by others in the FE sector. This will be made availablestaff of the services they’re on AoC’s website later in 2013 at the shared services section:delivering to the Colleges, ( for us to be able to moveinto a different, perhapsmore professionalisedenvironment around thebusiness support serviceswe’re offering.” Andwhile ‘internal politicians’were needed to driveimplementation, to date therehave been no redundancies- no posts taken out of thestructure as a result of theshared services work.Shared Services model and legal structureThe shared service company – Wessex Education Shared Services Ltd (WESS) – was formed inNovember 2012 as a private company limited by guarantee. To manage the risk of destabilisation, theimplementation plan allows for a fast and a slow track for joining the company fully, depending on theposition of each of the partner Colleges. It is anticipated that all partners will be fully embedded intothe new collaborative relationship by the end of 2013-14
  6. 6. Outclomes for the projectThe team is more than It’s not just financial savings that makes Robin Gadd an evangelistconfident that it will exceed for shared services: “There’s been an opportunity to learn, inits target of sustainable amazing detail, how things get done in other organisations.”5% efficiencies in year Arguably, in no other FE initiative have competing Collegesone, and all the early signs given each other such detailed access to their provision. Moresuggest that it will also importantly, the sharing has not been about one organisationmeet its medium-term saying ‘we have the best practice from which you should learn’,target of 20%; somewhere but about Colleges coming together in a mature way to share theirin excess of £1.3 million common issues and challenges, and using the pooled expertise tofrom the baseline. “Where fuel innovation and the discovery of a ‘one best way’.else could we achieve thatscale of efficiency whilealso increasing serviceexcellence?” argues RobinGadd. “Shared services,given what we’ve learnedover the last 18 months,strikes us as almost a no-brainer.” And as the processof engaging employees inthe implementation activitiescontinues, many moreopportunities to generateefficiencies within theshared service centre areemerging. But perhaps moresignificantly, the sharedservice centre is becominga catalyst for processimprovement within theColleges themselves, helpingto drive out inefficiencywherever it is found.Outcomes for the sectorAs a result of the    A guide on ‘Tools for Managing Change’. The guide willCollaboration and Shared be available on AoC’s website later in 2013. All key mappedServices Grant Fund, processes will also be downloadable.the partnership will be    A lessons-learned log, detailing all of the hard-wonproducing some particularly insight into managing a change project on this scale whilehelpful resources for the rest retaining a focus on achieving the target impact andof the sector, later in 2013. benefits.    A programme diary showing how staff engagement and buy-in was established and maintained, including evidence from staff members’ perspectives at each stage of the programme. For more written case studies on Shared Services, visit the shared services section of the AoC website: (
  7. 7. © Association of Colleges 2013 2 - 5 Stedham Place, London WC1A 1HU Tel: 020 7034 9900 Fax: 020 7034 9950Email: Website: @info_AoC