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
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 servicesmeeting 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
Mr Herdan: As far as I know, it
is no longer there. It is not the terminology that is being used
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."
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 driversthis is the language, key drivers. The report
does not say things like how well organisations deal with complaints,
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".
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."
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.
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
Q278 David Heyes: Are you able to
say where we should look to find out about those private sector
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
Cabinet Office, The Customer Voice in Transforming Public Services:
Government Response, December 2006, p 9 Back
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
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