Citizens Charter

Oral Answers to Questions — Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th December 1993.

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Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain , Neath 12:00 am, 6th December 1993

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what progress is planned on implementing the citizens charter in next steps agencies.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Parliamentary Secretary (Duchy of Lancaster Office)

We expect all agencies that serve the public direct to publish a charter or charter standard statement and to report on performance against it over time. Many agencies, such as the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency, already have a charter. Those that do not are to consider publishing one when their framework document is reviewed. New agencies should have a charter on launch. In the near future, the Department will publish a White Paper—the 1993 review—on next steps agencies in Government.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain , Neath

At a time when the DVLA in Swansea is being market tested, is the Minister aware that its staff feel deeply insulted by their special chartermark award, especially as £3,970 was spent on public relations trinkets —money that would have been better donated to a local charity—one of which was a tax disc holder that was illegal according to the DVLA's specification? Is he further aware that they feel deeply insulted that more than £300,000 has been spent on fees to consultancies to oversee the market testing programme, when their jobs are at stake and their futures being destroyed?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Parliamentary Secretary (Duchy of Lancaster Office)

I repeat to the hon. Gentleman the comments that have been made by Labour Front-Bench spokesmen: the first test of the market testing programme is in the eyes of the customer. The DVLA was awarded a chartermark for providing a good service to the customer, which will help it in winning the next contract. I should not underestimate that. The DVLA staff whom I met were certainly not as he described but were very much in favour of and pleased with winning the award.

Photo of Mr Gyles Brandreth Mr Gyles Brandreth , City of Chester

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the point of these agencies is to make the service more responsive and sensitive to the customer and to enable Ministers to raise standards and to ensure that we go more for total quality? Will he let us know what he is doing to ensure that improvements are more widely recognised?

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

Give him a chartermark pullover.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Parliamentary Secretary (Duchy of Lancaster Office)

I think that my hon. Friend has enough pullovers of his own.

My hon. Friend is quite right. The aim of the programme is to raise standards year on year. Many processes exist to help to convey the improvements that are being achieved already and to enable best practice to be disseminated throughout the public service. A measure of that is the 10 charter forums that have been held throughout the country, at which public service providers have compared notes on how they have improved their service to the public and how they can continue the process of development and improvement.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether the Government intend to increase or reduce the number of citizens charters in the forthcoming year.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Parliamentary Secretary (Duchy of Lancaster Office)

The citizens charter covers all public services. Thirty eight charters and many statements of charter standards have been published by Government Departments, agencies and public services. I expect a further two charters to be published in 1994 and up to 10 to be reissued with improved standards.

In addition, a wide range of local services have issued local charters. They cover activities such as police and fire services, hospitals, GPs and local authorities.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York

Does the hon. Gentleman see the need to protect the quality of service and the efficient use of public money spent by the Franchising Director in purchasing public service rail services by extending the passengers charter to the private sector companies which will be running rail services in the future, or is there to be a different quality threshold for private rail operators than there is for British Rail?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Parliamentary Secretary (Duchy of Lancaster Office)

The whole point of the franchise exercise is to improve services, to ensure that better services are provided after they have been privatised.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait , Hastings and Rye

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Strathclyde university on becoming the first university to win a chartermark for the excellence of its career service? Does he agree that it is proof of improving standards in the higher education sector as a response to the market? Does he also agree that there is a great need for continuing improvement in the standards of service offered by the public services?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Parliamentary Secretary (Duchy of Lancaster Office)

My hon. Friend goes to the nub of the charter, market testing and, indeed, of all Government reform activities. They are aimed at improving the quality and value for money of services. The value-for-money component is by no means in opposition to quality. Often delivering better quality—getting things right first time —means that things do not have to be done twice and that it costs less to do so.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Citizens Charter), Chair of Campaigns and Communications, Liberal Democrat Party

Has the Minister examined the way in which compensation schemes work under the charters, for example, in the public transport sector where lack of investment means more breakdowns, an increase in compensation payments and, therefore, even less money being available to tackle the causes of those breakdowns? In view of the lack of capital investment, which has been seen most starkly on London Transport in recent weeks, is not it obvious that those compensation packages could tackle the problem that the customer wants to see tackled, which is to get from A to B on time?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Parliamentary Secretary (Duchy of Lancaster Office)

The hon. Gentleman picked an extraordinary example because London Transport has four times the level of capital investment that it received under the Labour Greater London council. He is pinning down the wrong problem. One of the most important components of improving the reliability of delivery in public as in private service is management. Compensation does two things: the first is to give proper and appropriate recompense to those who have suffered from poor service and the second—the other side of the coin—is to give a strong signal to management that they must do something to deliver better service, which is what the charter is all about.