Central government is effectively mandating the widespread adoption of shared services centres among local authorities.
Whitehall will assume that local authorities have made substantial cost savings from IT-led shared services operations when it decides it's next spending round.
Ian Watmore, head of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit, gave the message to the Society of IT Management's Business Transformation conference in Birmingham last week.
Watmore told the local authority IT leaders present, "The centre thinks it is no longer optional to share. That will come through in the financing decisions [in the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review] if nothing else."
Watmore also warned that this would involve substantial changes to current working practices and to the shared services plans that some council IT bosses might have in mind.
"I'm less interested in one or two local authorities working together. I'm interested in something on a larger scale," he said.
His message reiterated a warning from the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), which is in charge of getting value for money for the public sector.
The OGC's chief executive, John Oughton, recently said councils had announced plans for 130 shared services centres, "and the business case for them all can't work."
He urged local authorities to combine their efforts.
The Comprehensive Spending Review sets public expenditure for government organisations for a rolling three-year period and the next review will set spending from 2008 to 2011.