Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300-319)|
22 MARCH 2007
Q300 Mr Prentice: You have to really
screw up in a big way to lose it.
Mr Herdan: Yes, it would be fairly
unusual. It may be that an organisation will chose not to re-apply.
You get re-accredited on a regular basis every three years, so
organisations who are doing badly will chose not to come back
and be re-accredited if they know they are going to lose it.
Q301 Mr Prentice: Is it motivating
for the staff to belong to an organisation that has a Charter
Mr Herdan: Yes, it is one of the
key aspects to the scheme. It is extremely motivating. We found
lots of examples of that including my own organisation where we
did actually survey the staff. We got about 70% saying they found
it very motivational. They felt it did drive up standards within
the organisation. We found that in lots of other examples around
Q302 Mr Prentice: Those 400,000 people
in the 1,600 organisations with Charter Marks, they are happy
Mr Herdan: They are people who
have some pride in their organisation.
Q303 Mr Prentice: Does that mean
they are happy in their work?
Mr Herdan: I am not sure we are
measuring that. We could assume that people who have some pride
in what they are doing have a degree of job satisfaction.
Q304 Mr Prentice: It would be impossible
to deliver a decent service to the public if you were fundamentally
unhappy in your work.
Mr Herdan: That is true. There
is lots of research which shows the correlation between staff
being pleased with their work and the service they give customers.
There would be a correlation.
Q305 Mr Prentice: Is there a correlation
between Charter Mark organisations and organisations that have
Mr Herdan: I would expect so.
Charter Mark organisations would generally have a very clear statement
of objectives including that customer-facing ethos.
Q306 Mr Prentice: You do not think
people are getting too jaded by all this kind of stuff, mission
statements, Charter Marks, Deputy Prime Minister's awards?
Mr Herdan: There is certainly
a proliferation of award schemes and in our research for the public
we found the public were not that impressed with people having
Q307 Mr Prentice: In your memorandum
you tell us there is a general scepticism about quality schemes.
If members of the public are all so sceptical, what feeds this
Mr Herdan: I think it is the fact
there are so many award schemes and some of them are not at all
rigorous. You can have award schemes which are sponsored by companies
and there is probably a link between who has got the business
and so on. The award schemes have become devalued by the large
numbers of them.
Q308 Mr Prentice: Which are the award
schemes that are totally useless, past their sell-by date and
ought to be shelved?
Mr Herdan: I am not sure I cannot
comment on that. What I would say is there are some award schemes
where there is no rigour to the identification of who should win.
Q309 Mr Prentice: You must be able
to name names; it is not secret. You have looked into this. You
spent six months looking at Charter Marks.
Mr Herdan: We looked at schemes
which do not have any formal requirements in terms of external
validation. People simply put in an application and people say,
on the face of that, we will give that organisation an award.
There are a few of them. A number of the magazines that run award
schemes are of that nature, things like the Health Service Journal
Awards which are just based on what people say; there is no peer
review. I make a differentiation between those kinds of schemes
and the ones where there is actually independent assessment, an
independent review and assessors coming on site and looking at
what you are doing rather than taking your word for it.
Q310 Mr Prentice: Who are these assessors,
the people who are checking on the awards?
Mr Herdan: In the context of the
Charter Mark scheme there are four companies who have been chosen
by competitive tender by the Cabinet Office who employ assessors.
They are people who have a lot of experience. A lot of them have
worked in the public sector in the past. They are trained and
are accredited by an external organisation called the UKAS, the
UK Accreditation Service. There is quite a lot of rigor around
both their training and assessment. They are effectively given
that accreditation to deliver the service.
Q311 Mr Prentice: Why do you tell
us that ways should be found to streamline the Charter Mark? What
is making it so cumbersome?
Mr Herdan: What I found talking
to Charter Mark holders, particularly large organisations with
multiple sites, was that every single site was required, even
if they were doing the same process, to be independently assessed
and that seemed to be a bit heavyweight. They said "Could
we not have a system where you could do spot checks and more self-assessment?"
I have recommended quite a lot of that kind of streamlining so
you would not have to have, for example, every single job centre
visited by a team of assessors in order to give the overall Jobcentre
Plus the Charter Mark. You would be able to allow that there will
be internal reviewers doing a degree of that and external assessments
of a sample. Also that kind of streamlining in terms of having
a rolling annual assessment of a different sample of centres each
year rather than a big staged event once every three years. There
are a number of ways it could be run a bit more smoothly. The
Investors in People accreditation, which is a very comparable
kind of process, allows internal reviewers to do the basic review
and their work is then assessed. In my experience, those people
who are your own staff are harder on you and know more about you
than the external assessment so it is a more powerful technique.
Q312 Mr Prentice: The outsourcing
you were telling us about, you also mentioned that it ought to
be retained as a responsibility of government, that the centre
of the spider's web should be in the Cabinet Office or the Prime
Minister's Delivery Unit. Why not just move the whole shooting
match out of government completely?
Mr Herdan: We did think about
that. We looked at that as an option when we were looking at all
the possibilities and it had some attractions in terms of having
a more adept marketing machine out there in the private sector
pushing the scheme, it might work better, be a bit less bureaucratic
perhaps. Against that this seems to me a pretty important piece
of government policy that would want to see high standards of
public service. Successive governments have talked about that.
This does need to link to other government initiatives around.
We got the Varney Review, and Gershon and Lyons, as well as various
activities going on to drive up public service standards and to
improve efficiency. If this was disconnected from all of that
it would not play a role in terms of delivering government policy,
which is to improve the quality of public services. I came to
the view that it should have a central theme. Also the surveys
we have done of the Charter Mark holders have shown they do appreciate
that central recognition. If they get a letter from the Prime
Minister, they have a real touching appreciation, that letter
is framed on the wall. Many organisations really appreciated the
link to government.
Q313 Mr Prentice: Finally, is there
a difference in the way in which staff respond to the public when
they are working for a government department where the customer
has no choice? We all have to pay taxes, for example. We had the
person from the Department of Work and Pensions here before us
last week. Private sector organisations depend on the customer
coming back. Is there is a difference in the way staff relate
to the public in those two sets of circumstances?
Mr Herdan: There can be, yes.
It gives an additional challenge to people like myself in running
an organisation in the public sector to make people recognise
the importance of the customer. In the private sector you always
have the threat the customer will go elsewhere and vote with their
feet. Tesco is a bit easier to deal with because they have this
mission to remain in business. In the public sector there is a
danger your staff can relax and say "They have to come to
us anyway so let's not worry about the level of service; we will
just do the job." That gives an additional challenge to public
sector managers to find ways to motivate their staff and to make
them care about the customer. We have found in certain organisations
the Charter Mark has been really valuable as one of those tools
to drive up staff's awareness and interest in the customer.
Q314 Chairman: How does choice and
personalisation work in the Passport Service?
Mr Herdan: In terms of choice,
people can chose the channel by which they apply and the sort
of service they seek to have, whether they want a faster service
or a standard service. There is not a lot of choice: the product
is the product. There are some minor variations in product with
extra pages but essentially there is not a lot of choice. We compete
the various private sector contracts that support us so we have
some choice in terms of who provides services to us. We are currently
competing the contact centre contract and the secure delivery
contract. We have some choice about provider within the organisation
but that is not what you meant.
Q315 Chairman: Remind us, because
it was an interesting story, here was an organisation that was
a basket case in terms of customer service a few years ago and
lost its Charter Mark. It has turned itself around, has it not?
Can you tell us, in a nutshell, because it may have wider lessons,
how that happened?
Mr Herdan: When I came into the
organisation in 1999, which was at the time of that crisis, my
diagnosis of the situation, aided by the NAO who did a very fast
and helpful investigation at the time, was that the balance had
become distorted in favour of efficiency. The big focus had been
to drive down costs and get the unit costs down. That was the
big driver and customer service consequently was definitely much
lower down the pecking order of importance, and security was not
fantastic either. The big driver was to get the costs down. My
reflection on that, and the Home Secretary at the time backed
me, was that we had to correct the balance and get a better balance
between security, customer service and efficiency. In order to
drive up customer service, which particularly suffered in all
of this, I instigated a big programme of improvement across a
whole range of things which included introducing ideas of choice:
a faster service if one pays for it; introducing appointments
so that if you want to come and see us you do not have to queue
for hourswe give you an appointment and you can come then;
and outsourcing the call centres so we could handle the volume
of calls because we were handling about four or five million calls
a year and we could not cope with that internally as we did not
have the right staffing profiles, management arrangements, none
of that. A whole raft of different things were done in order to
get that back. That required money so there had to be acceptance
the passport fee would increase and it required a determination
by the organisation that we would go for it. There had been a
customer service drive before the crisis but it had not been centre
stage. The organisation did have a Charter Mark but it was taken
away. We then worked hard to get it back. We knew from our internal
staff survey that it was a very big deal for staff when it was
taken away. They were very upset by that and I was committed to
getting it back, which we did after about 18 months, and we have
continued from there. Nowadays we run on a balanced score card
planning technique for all these different segments and this is
a continuing balance. We have just been talking about the fraud
issues and we are actually going to make the whole business of
applying for a passport a bit more difficult by requiring people
to come for an interview but that is a balance with the security
provisions. Having decided to do that, it is then about designing
the interview process so it is as customer friendly as it can
be, which means not too far to travel, appointments, people treated
properly when they arrive, so training staff to treat people as
Q316 Chairman: We have people in
front of us who assure us that there is no trade-off between efficiency
and customer service and you are saying the history of the Passport
Service shows there was a huge trade-off.
Mr Herdan: It is fundamental.
We could not have done all the things we needed to do without
funding and fundamentally the organisation was running with too
few staff. When there were seasonal peaks and unexpected demand
surges, which there were, and then changes in the IT system which
degraded the productivity temporarily, it had no spare capacity
whereas now we run with an organisation which for much of the
year has more staff than it strictly needs to do the job if the
demand forecasts are spot on, but by having the ability to finance
ourselves adequately we can make sure there is capacity there
to cope with unexpected demand to deal with the peak weeks, because
it is a very seasonal business, and then find ways to reduce the
staff in the low season.
Q317 Chairman: I am not sure Mr Gershon
will be terribly thrilled to hear all this.
Mr Herdan: I do not think we have
ever set ourselves up as being the very best model of efficiency.
We do need to keep trying to improve our efficiency but there
is that balance. The public expect a good service from us and
they expect us to prevent all this fraud. There is that balancing
act between the three and getting that balance right which is
the constant challenge.
Q318 Paul Rowen: Obviously we have
government departments going through the Gershon process at the
moment. Do you think there is a danger there will be a trade-off
between customer service satisfaction and that end efficiency?
Mr Herdan: There can be. I would
say we must be careful always not to trim things too far particularly
in the front line customer-facing activities. We have no problem
with making the back office and support functions and administrative
functions more efficient and we are trying to do that ourselves
in our organisation. There is a lot of room to improve there without
degrading the external customer experience but on the front line
people are providing that customer service and if you cut their
numbers too much there will be inevitable consequences unless
there are things that can be done to automate. There are some
things that we automate which used to be done manually so it not
an automatic thing that you need more money to provide those customer
services but there are trade-offs definitely.
Q319 Paul Rowen: If those organisations
have not got a Charter Mark, how are we going to know? We are
going to know because of the number of complaints we get but does
that not make the case that they all should have a Charter Mark
or some means of measuring customer satisfaction?
Mr Herdan: There should be strong
encouragement for that and government departments, who are the
sponsors of agencies who deliver many of these services, should
certainly be asking why they have not got a Charter Mark and certainly
should be expecting them to assess customer satisfaction and to
report it. Most customer-facing organisations would have in their
set of targets a customer satisfaction target and we certainly
have that. The sponsoring departments, and those who monitor,
regulate and audit them, should be making sure that customer satisfaction
is measured rigorously. That is part of the theme of my report,
not to let us allow reporting of customer satisfaction which is
not actually genuine.