Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 63 of Session 2005-06, dated 18 July 2006


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today:

"There are plenty of examples where an excellent public service is delivered by professional and considerate individuals. Highly-dedicated teachers, doctors or public servants can make all the difference to peoples' lives every day throughout the United Kingdom. But we can all also think of examples where we have been let down by a public service. Too often public services are hard to get, not delivered quickly enough, or too bureaucratic.

"The members of my committee, and indeed the people of this country, are fed up with dealing with or hearing about services that are complex and inflexible, that are slow and inefficient and that do not meet the needs of people because of who they are, where they live or how old they are. And too often the service is designed for the convenience of the official and not the people on the other side of the desk who need the service. We have set out ten aspects of a high quality public service. All public servants should examine this list and ask themselves: 'Do I measure up?'"

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 63rd Report of this Session, which draws on several years' worth of examples - both good and bad - from reports of the Committee covering the quality of services provided to the public.

People want public services that work. They want them to be easy to find out about, simple to use and responsive to their needs. They want them to deal with their requirements, preferably in one go. If they cannot do this, they want to know by when they will be dealt with. They do not want to be passed between different offices or handled by staff who know little or nothing about them. They do not want to be greeted by impersonal answerphone messages or expected to complete long forms. Providing high quality and cost effective public services is not easy. It involves creating organisations with the right approaches and ethos, establishing clear ways of delivering services and putting the right people in place to respond to the needs of customers.

The Committee of Public Accounts has seen many successful examples of high quality public services and some which have further to go in reaching the standards people expect. This report takes a similar approach to the Committee's 17th Report of Session 2005-06, Achieving value for money in the delivery of public services, in looking right across government and drawing out themes. The Committee considers that, as with the planning and implementation of policy covered in that Report, there is much that organisations can learn from each other. By doing so, they are more likely to deliver services that meet the demands and needs of citizens in ways which also achieve good value for money for the taxpayer. The report identifies 10 steps to a high quality service drawn from our Reports.

In future hearings we will consider the service provided by a public body against the following criteria:

1. Understands the needs of its customers - identifies all types of customer, finds out what they want and need, and recognises why some don't make the most of public services.

2. Designs its services in the light of this understanding - creates or reforms services to suit its customers, delivering, within reason, what they want and need.

3. Consults with users regularly - gathers information on user expectations so that services can respond to changing requirements and circumstances.

4. Introduces robust and well developed arrangements for delivering services - designs and introduces ways of delivering services which are suited to user needs, simple to understand, cost-effective, and - if they fail - can be easily repaired.

5. Employs and motivates capable staff, especially on the frontline - recognises the value of its staff at all levels, appreciates the impact of a motivated frontline on customer satisfaction, and employs well trained staff who can empathise with customers.

6.Monitors service performance and learns lessons so it can innovate - establishes suitable and credible performance measurement mechanisms, regularly monitors performance and carries out effective analysis, applying lessons learned to make service improvements.

7. Provides redress when things go wrong - recognises things will sometimes go wrong, appreciates citizens' right to redress, and establishes complaint and compensation channels that are accessible to all and efficient to administer.

8. Publicises services and performance levels to all users - communicates information on services and performance through tried-and-tested methods and innovative approaches.

9. Balances not over-burdening service users with rules and demands for information with the need to safeguard public money - understands the importance of cost-effective eligibility checks and considers the appropriateness of rules and requirements.

10. Does what it says it will.....over and over again - understands its capabilities, only promises what it can realistically deliver, and repeatedly delivers to the same high standards.

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