Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-299)


22 MARCH 2007

  Q280  Paul Rowen: Do you not think that something such as an ISO[5] standard, which is internationally recognised and therefore easily understandable and transferable to different organisations, would be much more beneficial to the public sector?

  Mr Herdan: ISO standards are used in the public sector as well. Public sector organisations can subscribe to set ISO standards. The most well know one is 9001 which is around quality control and production processes and routine processes so it has a different role. IIP is another standard that many organisations, public and private, use which focuses on how you develop and look after your staff. Many organisations, and most of the public sector, are accredited to that scheme. These schemes have different purposes. This one is the only one which focuses particularly on the question of customer service and I think for the public sector that is really, really important.

  Q281  Paul Rowen: You mentioned only 9% of all public sector staff are actually covered by a Charter Mark. Do you not think that is part of the reason why there has not been a great uptake because it is not understood like an ISO standard?

  Mr Herdan: Yes. There is this issue of not being sufficiently and actively marketed. There was insufficient knowledge of what it does. Maybe there are other levers which are needed to make it more strongly of interest to public sector managers. I mentioned, for example, the relationship between inspection regulation regimes and the Charter Mark standard. It would be much more interesting for many managers in the public sector to go for a Charter Mark standard if they knew that some of the regulatory burden would be lifted because the regulators would see that the customer-facing issues had been dealt with. That does happen a bit in Scotland, for example; the Ofsted equivalent inspections rely on the Charter Mark. In some sectors a little bit of that has taken place and a lot more could and that is what the recommendation is.

  Q282  Paul Rowen: The Government's response says that in terms of the audit a lot of the work would be outsourced. How do you envisage that actually occurring?

  Mr Herdan: At the moment the Charter Mark assessments are outsourced so that is done by assessment bodies who are subject to independent accreditation to make sure their standards are satisfactory so I am recommending that should continue. There may be more bits of it that could be outsourced.

  Q283  Paul Rowen: It does actually say here that the day-to-day running of it would be taken away from the Cabinet Office.

  Mr Herdan: As I said, today to a large extent that happens in terms of the assessments are all undertaken by the private sector, accredited organisations and I recommend that should continue. What is important is that in the centre of government there is a unit which is promoting and linking this to other parts of the public sector policy in terms of how this links to other things like the Varney Review or the Lyons Review, or these various things which have been going on with Gershon.[6] [7]There needs to be a gluing together of all of that. Also the Charter Mark holders really appreciate recognition from the centre of government of what they are doing so that must not be understated either.

  Q284 Paul Rowen: What about the links with the Capability Reviews?

  Mr Herdan: There is that too. The Capability Reviews go a little into this territory of "are the services that should be provided being provided as efficiently as possible?" There is a link to that definitely in the territory of leadership, which is where a lot of the Capability Reviews do not score so well. I would say that providing leadership to your staff is a key issue in terms of the public service agenda and the customer service agenda.

  Q285  Chairman: If this is a public service kite mark, why do we not require public service organisations to get into the business of applying for it?

  Mr Herdan: That was something we did consider, whether it should become compulsory. That is not out of the question but, as ever with these things, if you are told to do them they might not have quite the commitment to it as if you had chosen to do it. We did think about that. For a period, being accredited as Investors in People was mandatory for the central public services and you had to go for it. We looked at that example and asked was that as good a thing to do as saying you can chose to do it. Our recommendation, on balance, is not to make it mandatory but to make it sufficiently interesting and attractive that people will choose to do it. It is a lot about enlightened management and it is something which people can chose to do themselves through self-service, go on a website and do themselves, or do it through an accredited scheme.

  Q286  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Can I quote something back to you: a "more rigorous measurement of customer satisfaction using a common framework." How do you measure customer satisfaction when a lot of the people you see do not speak English? If people coming in front of the Passport Service staff do not speak English, or do not know how to complain, and certainly do not know what an MP stands for, how do you quantify complaints?

  Mr Herdan: That is a challenge. Actually a number of the methods which are currently used to measure customer satisfaction suffer from all the deficiencies you are hinting at. If they get a form to complete or collect a card from an office they have just visited and they are not particularly literate, or not one of the people who fill in those kinds of things, then you get a very skewed sample. If they are not English speaking and the form is only in English, they will not complete it. There are better techniques to use around face-to-face discussion, telephone surveys and things of that nature, or deliberate targeting, to make sure you do pick up all those different groups and deal with any of the inhibitions they might have towards completing feedback forms. I think that is important. The other thing to make sure is that the questions that are asked are sufficiently rigorous, and are not just designed to get a positive score in order to get a tick in the box. There is a great danger that that goes on.

  Q287  Mr Liddell-Grainger: It is going to be more difficult because you are outsourcing to towns across the United Kingdom and if you want to continue the kite mark you have to make sure that all those complaint procedures and the customer satisfaction is at a level where it is not going to be the same for say Rochdale, where Paul is, down to my rural constituency in the middle of nowhere. You are going to have two different types of people. If they cannot get there because there is a problem with transport, it is going to be different. How are you going to come up with a standardised system to make sure this is being achieved?

  Mr Herdan: First of all by recommending that people should do surveys which embrace the main drivers of customer satisfaction rather than focusing too much on a single dimension. That is particularly the result of the research in Canada that we drew on. Also it would be very important that people do use the right kind of techniques and not just rely on the very simplest written post cards to be returned. It is about giving advice. It is not about mandating to say you must do it a certain way but about making sure that the surveys are designed in such a way that will get the results that are needed. It is not necessarily about trying to create a single result or expect the same result in different communities. You would not necessarily get different levels but it is about making sure that it is done rigorously. I suggested, although I am not sure it is going to be picked up, there could be some standard questions which apply across the board so you do get some comparability at least within sectors.

  Q288  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Is this not fundamental? The passport is now becoming the form of ID. We do not have ID cards in this country. You are now giving information to the DVLA. All the other organisations come to you, the Identity and Passport Service, for our photograph, our signature and everything else. The responsibility of the Identity and Passport Service, if I read it right when I went to visit it, is becoming more and more fundamental to citizen identification. Is that fair?

  Mr Herdan: Yes.

  Q289  Mr Liddell-Grainger: If you cannot get customer satisfaction all things start to go wrong. Are you convinced in your mind that what you are recommending is going to be taken up to a level which will pacify the citizens of the country that the best is being done in their name?

  Mr Herdan: If I turn to the example of my own organisation, quite a number of our activities are outsourced. To deal with the outsourcing question, our call centres are outsourced, a lot of the IT is outsourced, the delivery of passports is outsourced to a courier company. There is a lot of outsourcing going on. We use phone surveys rather than written responses to deal with some of the issues you are talking about, to make sure we do get a statistically relevant sample across all applicants rather than those who choose to respond. We also do mystery shopping of all our different channels so people do go into our offices and score the services and give us reports back. We do in-depth complaints analysis so those people who do chose to complain we analyse all that and draw out the lessons from it and change services to respond to that. We have sought to benchmark ourselves against other organisations, both in the UK and overseas. We are trying to do all that as well as we can. We need to know what our customers are saying about us and we need to keep improving.

  Q290  Mr Liddell-Grainger: I came back to Heathrow on Monday morning and the queue to go through the British passport system was over 200 yards long in Terminal Four. As you can imagine, we hopped up and down slightly because it was not going away and then they reluctantly opened the non-British part and the queue went down. I counted how many people were actually looking at passports and how many were standing around scratching their heads around the corner and there were more scratching than working. You cannot quite quantify that. I was talking to the people in the queue and they said this was normal. That is an example of where the system is actually not working. Now that is a fairly fundamental flaw. Here is a British citizen trying to get back on a British passport, not the outsiders, and he cannot do it because the queue went around the corner. There is a fundamental failure. That is just an example. Talking to people in the queue they said it was not all the time but certainly it was regular.

  Mr Herdan: On the face of it that is not acceptable; I would agree with you on that. There would be questions regarding whether people are surveyed regularly, the sort of the thing we have been discussing here. Are there regular surveys of people using airports in order to get a review back to the management of the immigration service as to whether the service they are providing is satisfactory? That is a good question. What are the solutions to that kind of problem? The solution is not to stop looking at passports and say we will wave through the next one hundred. That used to happen but it does not happen any more. Passports are checked, and more data is checked behind each person so it takes longer. With the new type of passport we are now producing that has added to the waiting times as people are aware. Other solutions will be around automating. That is the direction we are heading, automated clearance so that people equipped with the right documents would be able to go through a channel which reads the document automatically and matches them to it. There are technological solutions to that problem.

  Q291  Mr Liddell-Grainger: You have 10,000 passports stolen by waifs, strays and generally dodgy people. That does not look good, does it? I do not know how many passports have been issued but 10,000, in my view, is a quite a lot of passports. I am not suggesting you should not check passports because that has to happen. We do not live in a world where you cannot do that. Surely you need somebody to come in from the outside and look at this as an objective exercise. How can we lose 10,000 passports? Are we doing the job at the front line? If we are going to automate, let us not do what the NHS and everybody else does which is cock it up and cost millions of pounds on IT projects. We look at IT projects in this Committee, and it is an unmitigated disaster across government. Surely, from your point of view, you should be championing the need for somebody to be brought in to look at this as an objective exercise, so that none of this should happen.

  Mr Herdan: On the issue of the numbers of fraudulent passports, which has been in the media a lot this week as we announced that information, it is 0.15%. It is nothing to be complacent about but you have to see it in context. It justifies the measures we are taking. Going back to the theme of this inquiry, it justifies a bit of a shift towards inconveniencing people a bit more, making the process of applying for a passport slightly more complex and difficult, in return for improved security. The thing we are talking about, people having to wait to get through border controls, is a kind of balance. There is this balance between providing the very, very best service in terms of speed, the timeliness factor within those five key drivers, versus the security that people also want because they want their identity protected. They want their passports checked. They do not want people getting into the country who should not. It is a difficult balance but I agree that sometimes having an external view is necessary, yes.

  Q292  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Why do you not get Tesco to help you? They deal with thousands of people a day. They know how to operate with people. They are a people business and they are pretty successful. They are bigger than you are and they do it pretty well. Why do you not ask their HR people to give you a hand? They would open check-out counters. They would actually know because we all carry keys which flick through. Technology is there to be used and understood but you have to be bold enough to use it. Are you bold enough to go out and embrace the technology?

  Mr Herdan: Certainly, as we do work with the private sector a lot, I am very interested in benchmarking ourselves against the private sector. We did talk to a number of private sector organisations including Tesco in this investigation about what they thought we should be doing. We have looked at that.

  Q293  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Are we going to see the Bernard Herdan memorial lecture saying "I champion this. This is what the passport people should be doing" so that we are going forward to understand. It is not good enough to say "I am sorry we cannot get the queue down." People want answers. If something goes wrong and something happens in our constituencies, we want answers.

  Mr Herdan: I am sure we can learn from the private sector in lots of situations, I do not disagree with that, and we seek to do that where we can. I am not sure Tesco is going to help us around the issues of fraud. They might well have a lot of experience in queuing theory and how to minimise queues so that might be a very good idea.

  Mr Liddell-Grainger: They are pretty good at it.

  Q294  Chairman: Now that Ian has started on the anecdotes: I had to send my son's passport to him at university last year and it did not arrive, something happened to it en route. Trying to interest the Post Office in this fact or the Passport Service was impossible; nobody was interested. I was trying to say to them that losing a passport, a passport effectively being stolen in transit, is rather an important thing. The Passport and Identity Service needs to know what is going on but nobody was interested. They simply dished out another one to him.

  Mr Herdan: They should have been extremely concerned. I find that mysterious because we have a system for recording lost and stolen passports. They go onto a database and all border posts are alerted.

  Q295  Chairman: I was trying to explain to your staff why it mattered. You can see then why there are thousands of passports missing.

  Mr Herdan: We have a big database of lost passports. If anyone reports a lost passport that should be on our database. Your report will be on our database now but you should not have encountered that attitude when you spoke to them.

  Q296  Mr Prentice: I shall resist telling you my passport anecdote. I have not seen any figures about the number of organisations who have Charter Marks. How many are there?

  Mr Herdan: About 1,600.

  Q297  Mr Prentice: How has that number moved over the years?

  Mr Herdan: It started off very small with a few hundred to begin with, when it was an award scheme and more limited in terms of who could apply, but in recent years it has been around that sort of level. In terms of employees, it is about 400,000 people who work for those 1,600 organisations. That is the sort of scale so about 7% of the public sector.

  Q298  Mr Prentice: Do organisations ever lose their Charter Mark?

  Mr Herdan: Yes. Our organisation lost their Charter Mark after the crisis in 1999; it was taken away.

  Q299  Mr Prentice: How many last year lost the Charter Mark?

  Mr Herdan: I do not have that information. It is fairly rare. We could write and let you know.[8]

5   International Standards Organization. Back

6   HM Treasury, Service transformation: A better service for citizens and businesses, a better deal for the taxpayer, Dec 2006. Back

7   HM Treasury, Well Placed to Deliver?: Shaping the Pattern of Government Service, March 2004. Back

8   Ev 150 Back

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