My week - 28 January 2014 - Review of service delivery

University Secretary Roger Gair gives an update on the University's review of service delivery.

Roger Gair

Last week the Senate and the Council received progress reports on the work started last year to identify options for improving the delivery of services in the University.

The work was set in train in May 2013 for two broad reasons. First, we need to modernise the way in which we deliver services to support the academic work of the University. Few would dispute that administrative processes require improvement and simplification, that accountabilities and service standards are not sufficiently clear, and that some services have become ‘siloed’ in their character and operation.

Secondly, there was a financial imperative. The recruitment shortfall of 2012 led to a reduction in the allocation to the services, just as there was reduced income available to the faculties to carry out the academic work of the University. The original plan – in the budget statement approved by the Council last March – was that we should seek to secure savings worth at least £11 million in the delivery of services across the University (centrally and in schools and faculties) from 2014-15 onwards. In any event, data on staff costs show that Leeds spends proportionately more on services, and less on academic activities, than is the norm for the Russell Group.

This was a challenging agenda, and colleagues will recall that KPMG was engaged to help us to address it. Specifically, KPMG was commissioned to work with the senior management team ‘to identify options for reconfiguring service delivery, structures and management to secure greater efficiency, flexibility and agility commensurate with likely funding scenarios’.

We received KPMG’s report last month. In a nutshell, it identified about 100 ‘improvement opportunities’ – essentially opportunities for securing savings and achieving greater efficiency by doing things differently (for example, by developing e-invoicing processes). In addition, KPMG identified scope for further efficiency and effectiveness through the reconfiguration of services.  It suggested that, for each particular service function, we should in effect bring the central and the faculty service teams together, with unified budgetary and management accountability.

There are helpful ideas and insights in the KPMG report, on which we shall be drawing, as described below. We have concluded, however, that priority should be given to process improvement and simplification, and that further work is required to determine the best approach to structural change.

As the KPMG report acknowledges, there would be considerable risk in trying to secure wholesale reconfiguration to the challenging timescale originally envisaged. We need to avoid doing anything which might jeopardise or destabilise support for academic innovation and other income-generating activity.

In any case, on the principle that form follows function, the reconfiguration of services has to be secondary to our renewed strategy for education, research and innovation.

In this connection, there has been some change in circumstances since we began the service exercise. Not only are we are now in the process of developing a new strategy, guided by a new Vice-Chancellor, but financially we have benefited from improved student recruitment in 2013. This improvement has not removed the need for us to reform service delivery – the rationale summarised above remains just as valid as it was last year – but it has given us a bit of breathing space.

With the support of the Council, a phased and measured approach to service reconfiguration is therefore being adopted. The approach will be to engage staff and students in a collaborative conversation with the aim of providing services that are valued and delivered in a trusted and transparent environment, across the University.

Our over-riding objective is to ensure that the services are organised and delivered in a way that best supports the academic mission and values of the University and which best supports the delivery of excellence in student education and research.

In that spirit, we are giving highest priority to the implementation – with care and sensitivity – of the Student Education Service (SES) and One IT projects already under way.

Special attention then needs to be given to ensuring the best possible support for research and innovation. This is timely, given the completion of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) submission; shifts in the national research landscape; and the need to ensure that the University increases its research income significantly.

In parallel, of course, we need to press on with work to improve and simplify administrative processes across the board, and to address the apparent imbalance in the funding of services compared with the academic units. The service leaders on the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Group (VCEG) have accordingly been asked to bring forward by 21 February proposals for their own areas. This requires them to evaluate – with heads of service and others – the various improvement opportunities identified in the KPMG report; but other ideas may be considered too.

All of this work will feed into the Council in March. It will enable us to confirm appropriate savings targets for the services, and a realistic timetable for securing those savings in a way that does not jeopardise academic excellence or income generation.


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