Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260-279)


22 MARCH 2007

  Q260 Chairman: Let us welcome our witness this morning, Bernard Herdan, who is now the Executive Director of Service Delivery, Identity and Passport Service but for our purpose is the author of a report on "The Customer Voice in Transforming Public Services", in particular looking at the Charter Mark and associated issues. As you know, we are doing an inquiry that covers this area so it is very useful to have you in to talk about what you have been doing and also what you have learnt and what you propose as result of that inquiry. We have some of the paperwork on the inquiry. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction?

  Mr Herdan: I am delighted to be here to talk to you about what I found in what was a six-month investigation into the Charter Mark and into the measurement of customer satisfaction with public services which is why I am here. I might draw some examples from my day job in the Identity and Passport Service as well where we have a very strong customer service ethos which may be why I was asked to do the inquiry.

  Q261  Chairman: Can you very quickly give us the background to this? Why does the Charter Mark need reviewing?

  Mr Herdan: The Charter Mark has been around for quite a long time since 1992, so 14 years, when we started doing the review. A view was taken by the Government that it had had its time. There was a question mark about whether it should be closed down or conversely was there more that could be done, recognising that its public profile had reduced. It was not in the public eye in the way it had been when it was launched and yet it appeared to be doing the business in terms of having the support of those who were Charter Mark holders. I was brought in by John Hutton to look at it objectively with no fixed remit. I could have recommended that it was no longer relevant or I could have recommended, as I did, that it should be revived, refreshed and changed in some way to make it more relevant. Basically the penetration of the public sector by the Charter Mark is very low; I think the report says around 7% in terms of numbers of staff affected. It was not having enough impact so the question was "What could be done to change that?".

  Q262  Chairman: So we are clear, it is the quality standard for public organisations.

  Mr Herdan: The Charter Mark started out as an award. Originally it was a competitive award and only certain categories of public sector could apply and there was a big razzamatazz award ceremony once a year. It then migrated to a quality standard which was externally accredited and that is where it is today. I actually see it more as a quality improvement tool. It is something which the management of public sector organisations can use to drive up standards of service to the public and to be more responsive to the public. That confusion exists all over the place so it is important to sharpen up. My recommendation was to sharpen up exactly what it is and what it is not.

  Q263  Chairman: I get puzzled by this and I claim to understand it. What was Service First?

  Mr Herdan: Service First was an initiative about putting citizens more centrally into the definition of public services. It was designed to drive up standards of service delivery across the public sector by bringing together two important aspects at the heart of public services—meeting user needs and helping to improve the effectiveness of Departments, agencies and the wider public sector. Service First therefore included the Charter Mark scheme.

  Q264  Chairman: What happened to Service First?

  Mr Herdan: As far as I know, it is no longer there. It is not the terminology that is being used now.

  Q265  Chairman: That is the problem; we launch things and then after a while we decide we want to re-launch them and give them different names and it is all terribly confusing. You tell us in your report that the Charter Mark is an unsung success story. Someone might think if it is an unsung success story why do we not just sing about it a bit more rather than dig it up and start again.

  Mr Herdan: There is that option. The Government is considering what I have recommended. It is interesting that, although not having had any significant external promotion for quite a long period, the scheme continued to prosper and the level of the take-up has remained roughly stable. It has not gone up but it has remained roughly stable for the last few years. That was indeed an option; we did consider leaving it alone entirely as it is doing a useful job. The disappointing thing about the Charter Mark is those who use it are tremendous advocates of it and really sing its praises in terms how they can use it to make their services more responsive to the needs of the public. However there are very many organisations who do not use it, so it is a wasted opportunity; it could be so much more useful.

  Q266  Chairman: You are saying, as I understand it, strip away some of the things that it is supposed to do and concentrate upon some core tasks, give it a new name and start over again.

  Mr Herdan: Not start over again, I am talking about a degree of evolution. The new name is not actually fundamental. The fundamental thing is to make it much more focused on what it was really there for, which is public service users' satisfaction with what they are getting. Some of the criteria of the existing Charter Mark are a bit extraneous, things about impact on local communities and value for money. There are various things that are not central to the theme of what you need to do to drive up levels of satisfaction with services from the public service users. It would be more about focus. It would be more about effective promotion of the scheme so that there is greater take-up so that, in the end, it has more impact on public service standards. That was the sense of it. It is not about scrapping it and starting something else.

  Q267  Chairman: Is it designed to be a kind of kite mark?

  Mr Herdan: Yes, in a sense it is that. The public do not recognise it and that is another problem is has. It is not really recognised by members of the public. I have not recommended there should be a big campaign for it to become something the public would recognise so they would say I will go for a public service that has this logo on its stationery and I will not go for that one which has not. I think that is unaffordable and I am not sure it is what we really need to do. The main thing is to use it as a tool to drive up the public service standards and then the users will recognise they are getting the service they wanted.

  Q268  Chairman: Looking at the summary of your report you say "While the existing scheme has an excellent brand loyalty amongst current holders, the name has some difficult associations with the past."[1] I do not know what these are. What are they?

  Mr Herdan: The Citizen's Charter, which is what this is based on, is very much associated with that era of government; it was a John Major initiative at the time. There were some high profile issues with things like the Cones Hotline that people mostly remember or issues around getting redress from British Rail, as it then was, for trains that were late. The Citizen's Charter was quite a bit about redress for poor performance, for example, and some of that is no longer how things are run. In my view it was a bit too centralist anyway. There were things such as Citizen's panels being used where they had a cross-section of people who were regularly surveyed on their view of public services generally. Some of that baggage, to my mind, is not relevant to what we are doing now.

  Q269  Chairman: I am interested in that. I am interested if you say it is not relevant. I thought the Citizen's Charter was one of the best things that happened to public services that I could ever remember. People used to come and see me in my constituency office and tell me about the Charter rights they had, and I thought that was brilliant. I agree we had fun with the Cones Hotline but it started giving people some rights and entitlements in relation to public services and that surely is a good thing. We have gone in the other direction, which is entirely managerial, technocratic and top-down. The Citizen's Charter was bottom-up. It was saying you have certain legitimate expectations about public services as someone who uses them and that is surely a good thing.

  Mr Herdan: Absolutely.

  Q270  Chairman: Why are these difficult associations? These should be positive associations.

  Mr Herdan: I am giving a personal view. The scheme was too centrally driven which gave me problems. It is absolutely right that we had that era, where people started to recognise that customers or citizens using services had rights. That has become embedded in the fact that many, many public service organisations do have statements of what the standards are that they seek to meet. They have redress arrangements and channels for complaints and all those kinds of things and they are measuring levels of satisfaction. I do think that needs to be tailored to the different sectors and different services rather than having a blanket standardised approach across the whole of government. I think that was why that scheme, in the end, did not persist and did not survive, because it was a bit too centrally driven. It has evolved. It has become more of age, in terms of evolving into what we now operate, where each of the government agencies and service providers has its own equivalent of a Citizen's Charter. Our organisation has exactly that; we publish our standards and we have redress if they are not achieved.

  Q271  Chairman: One of the things we are interested in looking at is how effective complaints systems are in government. You say in your report that you want to strip out the extraneous stuff and you want to have it focused on the key drivers—this is the language, key drivers. The report does not say things like how well organisations deal with complaints, does it?

  Mr Herdan: That is very embedded in those key drivers. It may not be explicit in the text you are looking at, but certainly the effective handling of complaints, keeping people informed about the progress of any issue regarding a service they have sought from a public service which may have gone wrong, is very much part of it. The proposition is that the Charter Mark, as revised, would have a stronger component in that area around the level of quality of service, and quality of service includes how complaints are handled. It is very important, in my view, and I am happy to talk about my experience.

  Q272  Chairman: What has happened to your report?

  Mr Herdan: I presented it to the Cabinet Office Ministers and the Civil Service, Sir Gus O'Donnell. The government published a response in December and they are now working towards the implementation of a large proportion of the recommendations with a launch of a revised scheme due this year, as I understand it.

  Q273  Chairman: Have they accepted the idea that it will have a new title?

  Mr Herdan: The question as to whether it should have a new name or not was one of the most divisive points. There is not an official government position on that. They are looking at alternative names or whether the existing brand should be modernised but kept. In my opinion, a new name would signal a change in direction and help to deal with this issue about driving up take-up but it is not fundamental to what has to be done. It is not as important as some of the other issues.

  Q274  David Heyes: The last sentence of the Government response to your report says "Plans for the launch of a new standard will be announced in due course." That sounds to me like code for "shelved".[2]

  Mr Herdan: I hope not. I would be quite frustrated about that. Personally I am a bit disappointed that the recommendations have not already been implemented. My report was issued in May or June of 2006.

  Q275  David Heyes: It took until December for the government to respond.

  Mr Herdan: Yes, it did. First of all, the size of the team working on this in the Cabinet Office is very small, so there is an issue about the amount of funding and resources being made available for this which, in my view, should be increased. Secondly, I do also know a lot of work is going on behind the scenes to develop a new standard very much along the lines that I recommended. It is currently being trialled with a number of both Charter Mark holders and non-Charter Mark holders to see if it hits the mark for them. I know there is concrete work going on and a lot is planned. You might want to call other witnesses who can tell you the detail of that because it is not my responsibility to implement but I know it is being developed.

  Q276  David Heyes: To quote from your report about refocusing the Charter Mark, you say "It should be a comprehensive diagnostic tool that helps public services to achieve continuous improvement and enables them to demonstrate outcomes via the measurement of customer satisfaction."[3] That assumes that it is delivery of public services through public servants. What about the interaction with privatised arm's length outsourced services? How would that approach work?

  Mr Herdan: We looked at that. The original Charter Mark scheme was very constrained in who could apply; it had to be public services run by public servants. Those definitions then broadened but there were still constraints which were financially driven because at that stage this was run within government and people did not pay to be assessed; it was paid for by taxation. The scheme has moved on now because the people who apply for a Charter Mark pay for the assessments themselves. There is not much government funding going into the scheme as it is mainly the customers themselves who pay for the service, as would be true of other assessments like IIP.[4] I do not believe, and the report does not recommend, that there should be those kinds of restrictions but rather that it should be open to anyone providing a public service. The private sector, voluntary sector, public sector, central or local, any of them should be able to apply for a Charter Mark. We were proposing, and the Government agreed, that there should be no restrictions on who should apply. For example, a private hospital just like an NHS Trust could apply for Charter Mark. The key thing is that it should be focused on public service provision but there would not be any restrictions. Actually for outsourced public service providers, the kind of companies who specialised in providing outsourced services for example to local authorities, it would be a cachet for them to hold the Charter Mark and say that they provide Charter Mark-type services.

  Q277 David Heyes: Is it appropriate in that context? The reason for bringing the private sector in, this is the logic that is quoted, is to bring market disciplines to bear. Your proposals for the Charter Mark seem like that is a proxy for the market to work in a public sector context. Surely the market should be replacing the need for all this because the market disciplines will make organisations treat people well and treat them like customers.

  Mr Herdan: Yes, but equivalent schemes do operate in the private sector as well. In the research we did ask private sector companies if they would be interested. We asked the likes of Tesco if they would go for a scheme like this; they were not that enthusiastic because they either have their own corporate schemes, with similar kind of objectives, or they use external companies. There is a company called J.D. Power and Associates, for example, who does all mobile phone companies. They all use structured market research run by an independent third party to assess their services and those reports are very important. There are other private sector schemes which do an equivalent job.

  Q278  David Heyes: Are you able to say where we should look to find out about those private sector schemes?

  Mr Herdan: There is a company called J.D. Power and Associates which I discovered, an American company that operates around the world. In the insurance industry the Association of British Insurers have just launched a scheme, which I also mentioned in my report, which is in a similar territory to this independent assessment of the quality of services provided by insurance companies.

  Q279  Paul Rowen: You mentioned those schemes. Why do you think there needs to be a separate scheme for public services?

  Mr Herdan: I think because public services are in a different territory as, in a lot of situations, they are monopoly providers. It is more difficult as a manager of a public service to find those pressures to help drive up the standards if that is your agenda. It has certainly been my agenda in my job. This scheme is something which provides some of that push, some of that motivation, to drive up standards which is more difficult to find in the public sector where you are either a monopoly service provider, as my organisation is, or in a very limited market-place as some other organisations are.

1   Cabinet Office, The Customer Voice in Transforming Public Services: Independent Report from the Review of the Charter Mark Scheme and Measurement of Customer Satisfaction with Public Services, June 2006, p 7. Back

2   Cabinet Office, The Customer Voice in Transforming Public Services: Government Response, December 2006, p 9 Back

3   Cabinet Office, The Customer Voice in Transforming Public Services: Independent Report from the Review of the Charter Mark Scheme and Measurement of Customer Satisfaction with Public Services, June 2006, p 5. Back

4   Investors in People. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 24 March 2008