HM Treasury


Putting customers in the driving seat: Evaluating customer service in three DETR agencies

25 January 2000

This information is being maintained for archive/historical purposes only. It will not be updated.

A powerful set of proposals to sharpen the focus of the public sector on customers is set out today in the first report published by the Public Services Productivity Panel. The Panel has been established to identify ways to help the Government improve productivity and efficiency across the public sector, and is chaired by the Chief Secretary, Andrew Smith. In this report, the quality of customer service at the Driving Standards Agency (DSA), the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), and the Highways Agency has been evaluated by Panel Member Andrew Foster.

The report finds much good practice but also several areas for improvement, and raises issues that are important for all parts of the public sector.

Andrew Foster said:

"Public services must meet the needs of the public not the agencies providing them. To achieve this, agencies need to be aware of their customers' needs and the public must have a clear idea of the standard of service they can expect. Real improvements will only be delivered if organisations draw on the experiences and views of the users, and create an understanding and commitment to meeting these amongst their staff.

The driving agencies have made real progress in improving their customer services but they still have some way to go to ensure they consistently deliver good services."

The Chief Secretary and Chair of the Panel, Andrew Smith commented:

"The Productivity Panel is playing a central part in the modernisation of public services, bringing in new ideas, acting as catalysts for change and identifying the means of productivity gains.

Putting the customer first is critical to the improvement of public services. Andrew's report contains a set of practical and compelling recommendations for achieving a step change in customer service right across the public sector.

This report is essential reading for everyone in the public sector providing customer services. I am grateful to Andrew Foster for producing it."

Lord Whitty, Transport Minister at the DETR responded:

"I welcome Andrew Foster's report and I fully endorse its recommendations. I am delighted that it recognises the real progress that these agencies have made in developing modern customer-focused services and in identifying areas for improvement.

The Chief Executives are themselves committed to continuous improvement and have already responded positively to the report's recommendations. I hope that the example of good practice it identifies will be disseminated widely across the public sector."

All three agencies are commended in the report for their commitment to customer service, made against a background of sharply rising demand. Achievements highlighted in the report include:

But there are areas for improvement. The report finds that:

Andrew Foster outlines a number of recommendations for the individual agencies, which include improvements in phone accessibility and quality of information, and ensuring that they regularly compare their customer service provision with other public and private sector organisations. Central Government is urged to clarify the range of targets for executive agencies to ensure customers receive clear messages about the standards of service they can expect.

Notes for editors

The Government's intention to form the Public Services Productivity Panel was announced in the Pre-Budget Report on 7 November 1998. Further details were announced on 8 August 1999. The Panel is chaired by the Chief Secretary. Its terms of reference are " to advise the Government on ways of improving the productivity and efficiency of Government Departments and public sector bodies". The panel reports to the Cabinet Committee (PSX), chaired by the Chancellor.

Andrew Foster is Controller of the Audit Commission. Other outside members of the Panel include John Makinson, Group Finance Director of Pearson plc, Dame Sheila Masters of KPMG, John Mayo, Finance Director of GEC plc, Clare Spottiswoode, Associate Partner at the PA Consulting Group, John Dowdy of McKinseys and Byron Grote, Executive Vice President of BP Amoco.

The "mystery shopping" exercises testing DVLA drivers and HA enquiry lines were conducted by the Consumers Association.

This report recommends that consultation with customers should form a key part of service planning and delivery. The Cabinet Office and the Treasury have been working together to develop a new customer focus for public services. An announcement will be made about the consumer focus in the next few weeks.

Public Service Productivity Panel Press Notices

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