COMPREHENSIVE PROCESS REVIEW – FINAL REPORT
INTRODUCTION AND PURPOSE
The decision was made to carry out a Comprehensive Process Review (CPR) of Official Receiver Operations in The Insolvency Service at the end of 1999. The Project Definition Document (PDD) was completed on 24 February, the contents of the plan agreed by the Deputy Inspector General on 9 March 2000.
The casework process is set out in the Official Receiver’s Casework Process Quality Standard and expanded in detail in the Technical Manuals Volumes I and II and the Case Help Manual. CPR was not intended as a review of those documents. It aimed at examining the practical application of those instructions to the work of Official Receivers. It looked to identify current best practice, short and medium term process efficiencies and longer-term beneficial change.
SUMMARY OBJECTIVES AND DESIRED OUTCOMES
The business objectives of the review were:
The review sought to establish at each stage of the review:
The Review Team was headed by: -
Tony Wilkin - Official Receiver & Director, Public Interest Unit (January 2000 to September 2001)
David Chapman - Head of Official Receivers Operations Section – October 2001 to March 2002
The team was made up of the following staff: -
Lynne Convery Head of Research of CPR team - March 2000 to March 2002 (25 hours a week until 20 November 2000 and thereafter 30)
Catherine Collinson Head of Improvements CPR team - May 2001 to March 2002 (working four days a week)
Orlanda Underdown Examiner Official Receiver’s Office, Medway – October 2000 to March 2002 (1.5 days a week)
Lydia Chown Examiner in Official Receivers Operations Section – October 2000 to January 2002 (2.5 days per week)
Jackie Smith Personal Secretary, Public Interest Unit - March 2000 to June 2001
Rowland Read Official Receiver, Public Interest Unit – January 2000 to September 2000
Due to the dispersed nature of the organisation others were called upon to provide access to each office and ultimately regional/Service-wide verification of some issues. The following resources were also utilised:
RMG: Regional Managers (RMs) were themselves, and as a group, involved in discussion and were asked to instigate action where a wider regional involvement was necessary e.g. by a number of Official Receivers (ORs) and their staff;
RSM: Regional Support Managers were involved where specific action was required e.g. process mapping or local focus groups;
Headquarters: HQ Sections were asked to participate by providing copies of project reports and other work that has covered areas of OR Operations work and processes.
ORs and staff: Individual offices at manager and/or staff levels were contacted when more specific research was being undertaken by the Review Team. This was by visit, by telephone or in an invitation to attend a wider focus group etc.
The Review was initially allocated the year 2000-2001 with the final Review Report to be completed by 31 March 2001. However, due to the overall complexity of the Review, and the variation in the depth and detail of various areas of the process the review was extended into the following year.
STAGES OF THE REVIEW AND STAGE REPORTS
Because of the many uncertainties with the Review, including size and capacity of the overall process, range of local variations, ease/difficulty of, and time needed in, collating research data at a distance etc., it was decided to divide the Review into a number of stages.
A Stage Report was prepared for each review summarising the work undertaken and findings of that Stage, the implications for earlier work and for that yet to be done. The Report sought to identify, and make recommendations for, the application of best practice, for change and suggestions for issues that should be carried forward for further work and later consideration.
The different stages of the review were: -
|Stage One:||Petition Deposit to First Attendance|
|Stage Two:||Quality of information, PIQ to PAR|
|Stage Three:||PAR Decisions to Investigative Outcomes and Investigative Processes (use of STAs etc)|
|Stage Four:||Administrative Instructions to IP Handover|
|Stage Five||Realisations, Payments to Release, Protracted Realisations and Aftercare|
It was originally intended that there should be seven stages but it was decided during the course of the review that the initial Stage Five (Investigative Processes) should be incorporated into Stage Three (Preliminary Action Return [PAR] Decisions to Investigative Outcomes) while the original Stages Six and Seven (Realisations and Payments to Release and Protracted Realisations and Aftercare) were merged to become Stage Five.
In addition to the proposed stages of the review a number of issues were identified for individual consideration. These were:
Other issues were originally identified for individual consideration but due to the resources available for the CPR these were not pursued (although they have been or will be considered outside the review). These issues included accounting records and destruction policy; provisional liquidation and interim receiver work; overhead time and use of and interaction with HQ Units.
The Review set out to establish processes across the work areas of an OR office, underpin that with the casework and technical standards that, ideally, are applied to that process and identify the influences on all the stages of that process (eg quality, time, management, reason).
Process mapping was carried out locally and sought to establish any additions or variations from expected processes. Training was provided to RSMs in process mapping and data collection, preparing them to address the review of the process.
After a number of approaches were developed and tested it was concluded that the only effective method of achieving improvement action across The Service was to have it owned and driven by local management.
The underlying issue that flowed from all areas of research was the need for managers to manage effectively – it is from this source that improvements must be achieved and maintained. It was, therefore, designated as a RM’s responsibility to achieve appropriate changes and improvements working with local management teams, the latter working with their staff.
To facilitate this a series of seminars were held. Each RM and the management team from one of his offices attended a two day seminar that examined the management and communication structures of the office, work processes (focussing on one process as an example) and analysed Stage One and Two reports for that office, receiving guidance from the CPR team on areas that needed consideration. Any matters of Operations policy involved in the seminars were cleared with the Deputy Inspector General/Senior Official Receiver, the Inspectorate and Enforcement (Disqualification Unit/Prosecution Section)
Following the seminar the RM and management team were asked to return to their office to communicate the need for change to their staff, to develop an Action Plan for change (to be submitted to the CPR team) and to act on that Plan.
Each RM was asked to deal with a second office in his region in the same way – it was suggested that they might be assisted by the management team of the first office.
The RM and the two ORs then discussed the methodology and achievements with the DIG/SOR before taking the action to the other offices in the region. The purpose of that discussion was to evaluate the effectiveness of the seminar and the local action and to identify any needs that must be met for improvement action to be effective across the region.
An outcome of the seminars was that RMs and offices should be prepared to act on subsequent stage reports analysed by the CPR team without the seminar support.
It was decided that for the purpose of measurement of the research outcomes, and project achievement, areas of concern for an office should be categorised as:
Progress on the review was reported to staff via the Insolvency Service Intranet and via stage reports and meetings with senior management.
STAGE ONE- PETITION DEPOSI T TO FIRST ATTENDANCE
Stage One of the Comprehensive Process Review (CPR) comprised of a process review activity in each office of The Service including a review of the Petitions and Transfers Team of Public Interest Unit and a specific project looking at the handling of computerised accounting records. The research for stage one was carried out by the RSMs between May 2000 and July 2000. The results of this stage were fed back to the RMs and offices during and after their meetings with the CPR Team, which were held between March 2001 and January 2002.
The areas covered in Stage One were:-
The review team found that there was a process covering petition deposit to first attendance in each office which was recognisable within The Service’s policies and standards. There is no single process common to OR Operations as a whole; many local variations exist, influenced by staff structures, experience, caseloads etc. There also appears to be an acceptance locally of personal systems and personal preferences. These departures from, and additions to, the process in each office range in seriousness from "local character" to "unacceptable".
At one end of the range, the variations in the process are insignificant in terms of possible efficiency gains although they may add to the security or confidence of those working within the process and so it would seem rather pedantic to try to introduce change. Generally, there are issues in many offices that could be changed and would result in benefits in terms of time, use of technology and customer service etc. At the extreme some few offices appeared to be disorganised with poorly managed processes.
The areas for change include monitoring of staff and processes, avoiding duplication and ensuring good public access. It was also found that small processes seemed to exist and operate in parallel to the main process, allowing staff to undertake work at inappropriate levels rather than providing training and support to appropriate staff. In addition, new innovations and technology were sometimes being added to, rather than replacing, existing processes. There were some instances of issues and problems being recognised locally, but where no improvement action had been taken.
Generally, however, there is sound practice in many offices that would be of use in bringing other offices up to standard. There are gains to be made in some individual offices, and Service-wide, but local and regional managers must both own, and be accountable for, their gains. There is an underlying need for objective and proactive management of processes and improvements. Without this, processes can be perverted by default e.g. lack of local training and support, lack of delegation etc.
Given the dispersed nature, and individual characteristics, of The Service’s offices local variations to the process must be acceptable so long as they are driven by local need and are effective.
The less acceptable variations and additions to the process need to be addressed and those actions should form the basis of a process of continuous review and improvement.
Managers should consider who does what, how it is done and what is needed, given the local environment.
STAGE TWO – QUALITY OF INFORMATION - PIQ TO THE PAR
In CPR Stage Two, the Regional Support Managers applied the research methodology of Stage One to the collection of information in each of their offices through individual interviews and meetings. The research for Stage Two was carried out by the RSMs between August 2000 and January 2001. The results of this stage were fed back to the RMs and offices during and after their meetings with the CPR Team, which were held between March 2001 and January 2002.
The areas covered by Stage Two included:
A considerable amount of information was collected from each office and was analysed by the project team. It was concluded that the research outcomes might not be entirely objective as there would always be an element of perception and personal opinion from those who have provided the information and all processes were changing to some degree over time. However, it was decided that the results were a key pointer to areas that managers should be looking into – it being the manager’s responsibility to determine the actual position and act as appropriate.
Trends were observed similar to those in Stage One that whilst there was a recognisable process in each office, in various areas there had been changes made to or deviations from acceptable processes and policies. These could be categorised according to their seriousness into:
There were findings made which were common to a number of offices. Where these were identified as areas for improvement guidance was given on how to achieve that change. These included:
Whilst collecting the information the RSMs also requested suggestions and comments from the offices as to how processes could be improved. Examples are changes to the PIQ; Local Office Information System (LOIS)/IT work and contact with other Government Departments. These suggestions will be forwarded to the relevant sections for consideration.
STAGE THREE – PAR DECISIONS TO INVESTIGATIVE OUTCOMES AND INVESTIGATIVE PROCESSES
The research methodology for Stage Three was different from that used in Stages One and Two. The CPR team undertook the research, which covered Preliminary Action Return (PAR) decisions up to Investigation Outcomes including all of the investigation process by dividing it into distinct areas for consideration.
The methods employed included reviewing a sample of completed PARs for each office, reviewing existing statistical data and reports from the Enforcement Directorate, and collection of information by issuing questionnaires to offices to ascertain local procedures for dealing with accounting records and the management of investigation procedures.
The specific areas covered by Stage Three are detailed in the paragraphs below:
Preliminary Action Returns
The objectives were to consider the quality of the PAR in the decision-making process relating to further enquiry and investigation and to examine the timeliness of PAR decisions and effectiveness of reviews.
The CPR Team reviewed a sample of PARs (both bankruptcy and company) as provided by each office in respect of cases where the insolvency order had been made during the month October 2000. The quality of the PAR in the decision-making process relating to further enquiry and investigation was considered and also the timeliness of PAR decisions and the effectiveness of Reviews.
All sample PARs were assessed to identify if the following details were available:
The timeliness of PARs was generally good with few instances of the PAR being submitted outside the 28 days.
In relation to a numerical explanation of the deficiency it became apparent that some offices operated different policies:
The same was true in relation to obtaining narrative statements.
Managers should consider the value on a case-by-case basis of obtaining further or more detailed information.
There were no instances where the Official Receiver required the submission of a statement of affairs although other accounts were required in order to provide further explanations of losses.
There were instances where it was difficult to ascertain details in respect of assets e.g. IPOs mainly due to references to instructions on Screen 8. This problem relates to the design of the current PAR form and should be solved with the introduction of the electronic PAR. Some PARs were very lengthy and information was handwritten and also recorded on Screen 85, which is a duplication of effort. A number of offices have adopted the approach of using Screen 85 in detail and then putting a copy of that Screen into the appropriate section of the PAR. The new proposed document production system will be able to address the problem of duplication in due course.
In the majority of offices the PAR could be used as a stand-alone document from which it was possible to make a FI/FE decision. Shortcomings were mainly in relation to the PAR not being signed and dated by Examiners.
There were instances when inappropriate comments were made on PARs either in relation to the conduct of the insolvent or by managers in relation to the quality of the work produced.
In some offices the comments of AORs or ORs was merely a re-write of the Examiner’s comments and did not provide any additional value or guidance.
These are matters in some offices of which managers should be aware and probably in some instances need action; these will be detailed in the individual office/Regional reports.
Analysis of Registers
The CPR Team considered on an office-by-office basis the cases added to Registers A and B during the period 1 April 2000 to 31 March 2001.
Register A – non-surrender - The general trend for all Regions was that a greater percentage of company cases were added to this Register; approximately 10% of bankruptcy and 33% of company cases.
In some offices up to 58% of new company cases were added to this Register.
Those offices with a high non surrender rate may need to consider their approach to initial enquiries in company cases and whether further effort should be given to making initial contact with directors.
The lower percentage of bankruptcy cases added to the non-surrender register was in direct relation to the number of summary order cases received by an office.
Register A – Exceptional – A similar trend was evident in relation to this Register, approximately 13% bankruptcy cases and 34% company cases were added to the Register. 9% of bankruptcy cases and 23% of company cases were moved either to Register A further investigation or to Register B.
Register A – FI – This relates to cases added direct to Register A further investigation. Approximately 8 % of bankruptcy cases and 24% of company cases were added to this Register.
Details were obtained from Enforcement Directorate of reports submitted by offices within the twelve month period ended 31 March 2001.
The aim was to consider the combination of reports submitted by offices and identify the most common types of offences reported, considering timeliness of reports and rejection rates. The team met with representatives of Prosecution Section.
886 prosecution reports were submitted by ORs in 2000/01. The average investigation unit cost score (calculated in respect of the relative seriousness of each report) was 1.39 units per report. This was slightly below the average of 1.40 in 1999/00 but above the average for 1998/99 (1.37).
The average unit cost score for each office covered a range of between 2.16 units per report to 0.99. The regional average varied between 1.5 and 1.27.
The average unit cost figure from 1 April to 31 December 2001 was 1.39 units.
The breakdown of offences reported by ORs was as follows:-
|2000/01||2001/02 (to 31 December)|
|Section 11 CDDA||16%||14%|
|Section 13 CDDA||5%||5%|
|Section 221/2 CA||3%||2%|
The percentage of total cases rejected by Prosecution Section was 4%. The range of rejected reports by office varied between 19% and 0%. The regional rejection rates varied between 2% and 10%.
121 warning letters were issued in respect of cases submitted in the year – 14% of the total of reports submitted. These varied on an office basis between 40% and 0% of the total reports submitted. The regional variation was between 3% and 20%.
The rejection rate to 31 December 2001 was 9% and warning letters 12% of cases submitted.
Reports on prosecution performance have been prepared by the CPR team on a regional basis and provided to the RMs. This research has also taken into account performance in the first seven months of the current financial year.
Details were obtained from Enforcement Directorate of reports submitted by offices within the twelve month period ended 31 March 2001.
The Team considered the timeliness of reports and rejection rates.
These details have been compared on a Regional basis.
A meeting was held with the Chief Examiner in Disqualification Unit regarding office performances. It was generally identified that offices had improved the content (identification of offences and evidencing allegations) and drafting /presentation of their reports and that less rework was now required. The advice visits made by the Unit have helped in this respect and also in relation to training.
Smaller offices suffer from the lack of company cases, which means that there is a lack of opportunity to develop the depth of knowledge about the subject. This problem can be overcome by the wider allocation of Insolvency Practitioner (IP) disqualification cases to ORs.
The difference in the quality of reports is apparent when there is a rotation of the FI Team in offices, which highlights that in some offices the input from Assistant Official Receivers (AORs) needs to be increased.
This re-enforces the conclusions reached in an examination of disqualification report timeliness undertaken by OR Operations Section: that less time is taken to produce a disqualification report when the Investigation Process is effectively applied and it is well-managed, regardless of the complexity of the case or the experience of the examiner. Constructive AOR input with regular, focussed, case reviews are key factors in progressing a case as efficiently as possible in the minimum of time.
Accounting Records Questionnaire
A questionnaire was sent to all offices to consider the methods used by individual offices relating to the recovery, recording and preservation of accounting records. Specifically information was collected in relation to when and who completed Screen 27, difficulties in recovery and which members of staff are involved in collecting and analysing information. This information has been analysed on a Regional basis.
The majority of offices (72%) complete the schedule of records (form BL 54.04) during the first interview. Some offices do not complete Screen 27 until completing the PAR. Efforts are made to collect records in the majority of case using various methods from agents, Parcelforce, AMTRAK and Examiners.
92% of offices replied that they do not recover accounting records in all cases and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis of the benefit in attempting to collect the records and this is recorded on the PAR.
Few cases are identified where the accounting records are inadequate.
Management of Investigations Questionnaire
A questionnaire was sent to all offices to identify who is responsible for conducting investigations AND how investigations are managed, identifying review programs.
This information has been analysed on a Regional basis.
Some offices have a separate FI Team whilst others use the Revised Approach to Examining (RATE) or a combination of RATE with Short Term Appointees (STAs).
The general view was that the Investigation Process has assisted in the control of investigation cases, although it is not always used if the forms would add no value e.g. in small cases or if case is used for training and AOR leads. All offices appear to have in place regular review systems.
Survey of Administrative staff
The purpose of this survey was to ascertain if administrative staff are undertaking any further investigation or tracing /non-surrender work on cases. Meetings were held by B1 office managers to collect this information and also to identify how this work was recorded for time recording purposes.
From the responses received, administrative staff carry out a variety of tasks that form part of the further investigation of the case, such as Land Registry and CCJ searches and sending out enquiry letters to banks and credit organisations, and letters to solicitors etc regarding transfers of assets. From the survey, administrative staff also carry various tasks after the PAR has been submitted to trace non-surrender bankrupts and company officers
The administrative staff that took place in the survey did not generally seem to feel that the work that they did was part of the investigation process. One explanation that was given was that the work carried out was only to allow the final investigation decision to be made, and therefore it was just part of the administrative process. Consequently, B3 time recorded by case officers often includes further enquiry and tracing work that is not part of the standard case administration process.
It was identified that a policy decision should be made as to whether it is important to be able to identify further enquiry work carried out by administrative staff to aid investigation decisions.
The final part of this Stage was to consider each Official Receiver’s audit program. All ORs have provided audit plans and this information has been passed to OROS for further consideration outside of the CPR.
STAGE FOUR – ADMINISTRATIVE INSTRUCTIONS TO IP HANDOVERS
The Regional Support Managers visited their offices to obtain information from staff for Stage Four of the Comprehensive Process Review. They interviewed case officers, examiners and managers on the following topics. The research for stage four was carried out by the RSMs between June and October 2001, and the results have been fed back to the RMs.
It had originally been planned that asset distribution would form part of Stage Four, but this was incorporated into the last stage.
Following the interviews the RSMs have written a report based on their findings for each office.
These reports were summarised by the CPR Team using the same methodology as in Stages One and Two. The areas of concern were categorised as:
Overall the findings for Stage Four were that there were fewer "Red" Areas than there were for Stages 1 & 2. They fell mainly into two categories:
There are several themes that run through the red areas in the report (ie management action required):-
The Stage Four reports and summaries have been passed to the RMs. It is now the responsibility of the offices and RMs to ensure that their processes are kept under constant review.
STAGE FIVE – REALISATIONS TO RELEASE, PROTRACTED REALISATIONS AND AFTERCARE
The work covered by this stage was initially intended to form stages six and seven but was subsequently revised into a single stage.
The research was undertaken by the RSMs by way of interviews with staff or questionnaires undertaken between October 2001 and January 2002.
The topics covered in this stage were:
Following the research, the RSMs wrote a report based on their findings for each office in their region.
It was felt that for this stage it was unnecessary to summarise these reports on an office basis. Instead a Regional Report has been produced which highlights the practices of each office within the Region.
The major findings and areas that must be addressed by the RMs are as follows:
Maintenance and Monitoring of IP Rotas
Most, but not all, offices had a primary rota and a secondary rota which was used for batching of cases such as IPOs. The level of assets applicable to each rota and the method of batching cases varied significantly. These differences were not only across the Regions but also between offices within each Region.
In many offices the same person was responsible for maintaining the rota and for monitoring new IPs being added to the rota. The grade of person varied from case clerk through to Official Receiver.
Post Release Work
Many offices are dealing with significant quantities of post release correspondence. In some offices the numbers are as high as 200 pieces of correspondence per month. These range from queries from bankrupts about discharge and queries following OR release notices to complicated pension and property queries. Some offices have a dedicated A2 dealing solely with post release queries. Offices have commented that dealing with closed case correspondence is time consuming and resource intensive. Further research needs to be done to discover why the levels are so high.
A significant proportion of cases are being re-opened. Several offices have a considerable backlog of re-opened cases, and this is an area that RMs and ORs will have to consider in detail as part of the local office action following the review.
COMPREHENSIVE PROCESS REVIEW ADDITIONAL PROJECTS
HANDLING HIGH COURT AND DISTRICT REGISTRY CASES AND TRANSFERS:
The review of the work of the Petitions and Transfers Team resulted in several significant changes to the way that the team carry out their work. Previously, a delay of up to 36 hours occurred between the making of an order and the receipt of a faxed copy of the order by the relevant Official Receiver. This meant that any investigation had already lost a significant amount of time during its potentially critical initial period. A pilot run by the team from 2000-2001 involved the team member who attended at court to hear the petitions giving notice by e-mail of all orders made so that enquiries could commence that same day. Where swift action is required, the team can obtain verbal confirmation of the order with the court on behalf of the OR to avoid any errors. The pilot was successful and the system went live in April 2001.
COMPANIES HOUSE DIRECT
An overhaul of Companies House products and their use by ORs found that there were significant difficulties with accountability with the existing system, both in terms of Companies House Direct (CHD) access and microfiche ordering. In addition, costs were high owing to the number of accounts being maintained, each requiring an annual subscription, and because a microfiche was still being ordered in every compulsory liquidation. Technological developments have meant that it is now possible for access to CHD to be gained via an Extranet service (utilising The Service’s Intranet facility) with a single account which still allows for full accountability while significantly reducing costs. The ability to review director details on-line at a reduced cost has also meant that a considered approach to ordering fiches can now be adopted and this can be done at the discretion of the local OR on a case-by-case basis. Extranet access is due to be implemented in the near future.
USE OF OUTDOOR INSPECTORS
London Region Outdoor Inspectors: this had a positive outcome with a range of recommendations aimed at enhancing the value and effectiveness of the Inspectors contribution to London Region.
It was discovered that the London offices using the inspectors were not aware of the existing timeliness targets for carrying out reports. As a result, these were publicised to the offices.
In addition, it was agreed that the inspectors would produce typed reports rather than handwritten ones, and a target was introduced for the production of reports after an instruction.
The London offices were also given updated guidelines on using the inspectors and were told that they should instruct inspectors when the second appointment letter is sent out, if no contact has been made with the interviewee, rather than instructing at a later date.
The study showed that some areas of time recording were not being properly utilised. This varied from not using appropriate sub-categories, through a general failure to record cases against time blocks, to not using certain appropriate categories at all. A report on all the findings was given to each RM, and the offices where significant departures from the standard were found have been reminded of the appropriate category to use.
The reasons given by ORs offices for mistakes, and one of the most common complaints about the current system is that it is too complicated, with too many categories and sub-categories. As a result, the time recording system has been revised by OR Operations, and has been simplified, with the number of sub-categories significantly reduced.
EFQM EXCELLENCE MODEL ACTION PLANS
These were reviewed and it was concluded that key action points either had or were being actioned and so there was nothing from the plans that could be picked up in CPR.
INCOME PAYMENTS ORDERS
It was concluded that a process was in place, but there may be some problems with passing IPO cases to potential trustees. However, the Service Level Agreement had come into force with Lees Lloyd Whitley and it was recommended that this should be reviewed for increased effectiveness at a convenient time.
An Enterprise Act focus group led by Karen Jackson, Deputy Head of OROS, is currently considering the process for collecting and administering payments from the bankrupt’s income.
LOCALLY CONTROLLED BUDGETS
A review was carried out of the operation of local budgets in ORs’ offices. The way that budgets are allocated to and controlled by each office was examined. This project did not reveal any particular areas of concern, and it appears that budgets are being allocated and operated in a logical manner. It does not appear that any offices have systems in place that result in noticeable savings on any of the budgets under their control that could usefully be shared with other offices.
The review incorporated two training projects, one looking specifically at examiner training and the other at general training within offices. The former issued questionnaires to the line managers and tutors of three sample groups of trainee examiners. For the latter, two questionnaires were used, one to be completed by managers and the other to be distributed to two individuals of each grade per office, covering both new and longstanding employees.
The general training review received 133 responses and showed that all offices have Training Liaison Officers and Training Plans. It was clear from the responses that training is considered to be an integral factor in enabling offices to meet their objectives. The majority of training is carried out in the office, particularly for administrative staff, and is dependent upon the presence of experienced peers. Staff felt that this ensured that the training provided was both relevant and effective but concerns were raised about the resource implications of this, especially in small offices and where there were high staff turnover rates.
Despite the general satisfaction with in-office training, the questionnaires indicated a desire for centralised training to be provided in the following areas:-
Questionnaires were also used when looking specifically at the training of new examiners and were issued to the line managers and tutors of all trainees within the groups - Cohorts 1, 2 and 3. Although a fourth cohort was set up, the trainees had only started in July 2001 and it was felt that there would be insufficient time for informed comment to be made. Trainees and assessors were not questioned since it was felt they would not have the necessary information about how the training affected the operational needs of the office.
The response to the questionnaires was very good and responses were as follows:
Cohort 1 – 8 tutors and 8 line managers
Cohort 2 – 6 tutors and 7 line managers
Cohort 3 - 5 tutors and 4 line managers
There are some differences between offices in relation to what roles are taken on by tutors and line managers and the level of involvement they have in the portfolio and assessment process.
The findings of the project have been passed to HR, to assist with a full review of the qualification.
COMPUTERISED ACCOUNTING RECORDS
Each office was asked to complete a questionnaire on the way that computerised accounting records encountered are dealt with in the office.
From the responses received, it became apparent that the existing system for extracting data had become inadequate, and that examiners were insufficiently trained to analyse and interpret computerised accounting records.
An alternative, in-house method of recovering data from computerised accounting records was introduced in conjunction with CUST. This has the added advantage in that it enhances the use of the records as evidence as they are downloaded by an objective person and a sealed disc is provided to the examiner. Additionally, training was provided on the SAGE package (which had been identified by the ORs as the most commonly encountered) for one examiner in each office, and each office now has a copy of the SAGE software so that records delivered up can be interrogated on the system.
Feedback from the training has been extremely positive, and all examiners in OR Operations are currently in the process of receiving training on the SAGE package.
OVERALL IMPROVEMENTS IDENTIFIED
Areas for improvement were raised in the CPR team’s office reports and in meetings with the RMs and OR management teams, one of which took place in each region. It was widely felt that the meetings between the CPR team and the office management teams had been very useful. Benefits included the fact that management were given an opportunity, outside of their office environment, to consider the management structure of the office and identify the communication strategy of the office. Discussions were held about the operation of the OR’s discretion within the office. The stage reports were discussed in detail with the management team in order to enable them to produce an action plan to implement any necessary changes. RMs were given the responsibility of ensuring that the changes were subsequently progressed.
Notwithstanding the fact that generally adequate processes were in place, the review did raise a significant number of areas that would lead to improvements in the way that OR operations worked. These included the need to ensure that:-
These are areas that The Service’s new management development programme should address.
Specific improvements identified and being taken forward include:-
PROCESS REVIEW IN THE FUTURE
There is a need for continuous review of processes in OR operations. It was apparent to the team that time leads to a natural deterioration of processes, particularly through coaching, as people do not impart 100% of their knowledge to trainees or successors. The recommendation of the review is that a Process Review Group is set up within OR Operations to take control of the subject. The group should meet at least twice a year and should gather improvements identified at an office and regional level together with improvements identified through Corporate Governance Reviews. The group should be able to ensure that processes are changed to deal with trends brought to attention by complaints and fruitless payments as well as adapting to changes in quality standards. The group should be made up of two members of OR Operations Section, two RMs and two ORs.
The key objective of the CPR was to ensure that the ORs’ offices are carrying out their functions in as efficient and effective a manner as possible. In particular, it aimed to identify potential efficiency savings, both through the widespread adoption of best practice and from the use of new technology. It also sought to identify possible improvements to customer services and to provide an assurance that The Service was making every effort to achieve efficiency savings now and in the future.
The review process has meant that The Service has been able to undertake a comprehensive look at OR operations and the way in which individual offices are carrying out their work. It has highlighted opportunities for co-ordinated improvements, many of which are already in progress, to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of offices and identified some cost savings in a few areas. However, the team have concluded that the majority of processes are currently being carried out efficiently and effectively, despite some variation in processes at a local level. Where this existed, it was frequently necessary to reflect best use of available resources. Poor processes were found to be present in a few offices and these could be linked to a limited knowledge of the processes by managers, together with a lack of proactive management and inadequate levels of supervision. These issues have been raised with regional and local managers to enable improvements to be made by means of improved communications with staff and better personal guidance from managers.
The review has also established the importance of carrying out such an exercise and has reinforced the need for OR operations to continue to review properly all processes at regular intervals to ensure maximum efficiency for the future.