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1. Overview

The Chancellor of the Exchequer asked Sir David Varney to advise him on the opportunities for transforming public services by improving the channels through which they are delivered, ensuring they are more responsive to the needs of citizens and businesses. His report, "Service Transformation: A Better Service for Citizens and Businesses, a Better Deal for Taxpayers" was accepted by Government as part of the 2007 comprehensive spending review and offers an exciting and challenging vision for the future of public services. The approach outlined builds upon the recommendations adopted within the Lyons and Gershon reviews but fundamentally shifts the focus from the 'back office' to 'front line' services.

2. Why transformation is needed

Varney chose to look at service delivery from the viewpoint of the citizen or business receiving the service and uncovered many examples of the inefficiencies and frustrations that arise from delivering out from 'transactional silos', for example:

  • Each citizen, on average, has to prove who they are to government 11 times every year
  • On average, 44 calls are made to government to inform of a bereavement
  • There are 45 different government help-lines or websites offering advice to small businesses
  • There are 61 different benefit entitlement forms in circulation with the vast majority requiring the same information

3. A blueprint for transformation

The report articulates a clear vision for transforming public services and encouraging wide scale improvements in their efficiency and effectiveness based around the following principles:

  • Making Better Use of Citizen and Business Insight - Where insight is seen as a core business process that gathers and consolidates information from multiple sources in order to develop a deep understanding of the needs, motivations and behaviours of the service user.
  • Grouping Services Around Themes - Bringing services together in a way that makes sense to the citizen or business receiving the service.
  • Integrating 'Front Offices' - Allowing key groups of citizens (for example, the young, the elderly, the unemployed) to choose packages of services that meet their needs and enabling partners to integrate their services seamlessly across the delivery chain.
  • Multi-Channel Service Delivery - Directing users to the optimum delivery channel (e-enabled, telephone, face to face) based both on what will achieve the desired outcome and the 'cost to service'

4. Recommendations

Varney believes that his report will act as a catalyst for innovation and change across government and he makes a number of immediate recommendations to promote action:

The Transformation Programme

The Government will establish a 'Transformation Programme' and produce an associated delivery plan as a priority for 2007. The Programme will be led by a Cabinet Minister who will ensure that all Departments develop plans for service transformation. The Minister will also ensure mechanisms for reporting progress are put in place and that these include benchmarking to allow comparison between Departments. To encourage activity pilot funding is to be made available for the first round of transformation projects.

The Business Model

Channel management has been endorsed as the underpinning delivery model for public services and each Department will appoint a Contacts Director to lead on the required changes. The Contacts Directors will meet together as a 'Contacts Council' to ensure changes are co-ordinated across government.

The Change of Circumstances Service

A "Change of Circumstances Service" will be set up and led by the Department of Work and Pensions with an initial focus on updating all records across government following a birth, death or change of address.

Contact Centres

There will be a rationalisation of the current 730 government contact centres in operation with all public funded contact centres having to be accredited and any with less than 200 seats having to go into shared service arrangements. To promote access a single number for all non-emergency services will be provided and a single tariff will be set for all telephone contact. A number of performance indicators will be used to promote change these will include: 80% of enquiries should be resolved at first contact; 50% reduction in avoidable contact; 50% reduction of the number of information requests handled over the telephone.

Web Sites

The current 560 government websites will be rationalised down to 2 with Direct.gov used for all citizen based enquiries and Businesslink.gov for all business enquiries. Phased reduction targets are to established between 2008-11

The Estate

The current number of face to face offices (there are 2660 in local government and 1220 in central government) will be rationalised as service users are encouraged to switch to other delivery channels and proposals for one stop shops based around common service groupings that cross both central and local government are developed. The future of the remaining estate will also be looked at as part of Office of Government Commerce (OGC) 'High Performing Property Route Map'.

Information Management and Technology

In order to support the recommendations the Ministerial Committee (MISC31) will develop a strategy that allows Departments to share identity information. This work will be supported by the "Chief Information Officers Council" who will be given the task of standardising contact systems and infrastructure across government.

5. Projected savings

Varney states that his proposals have the advantage of both improving service delivery and promoting the following cashable savings:

- £250-300m per year from rationalising the face to face estate
- £400m per year from rationalising contact centres
- £400m over 3 years from website rationalisation and channel migration

6. Starters for ten

To help you prepare for the challenges presented by Varney we have prepared some questions that you will find useful to discuss with your colleagues:

  • What proportion of your organisations service enquiries are dealt with through the following channels: the web, a contact centre, face to face?
  • What is the average 'cost of service' for each of these channels?
  • What scope is there to shift service delivery to more efficient channels? Are there any vulnerable groups of citizens that you would be particularly concerned for if you did this?
  • What proportion of your enquiries are resolved at the first point of contact?
  • Do you believe that your contact centre will be able to meet the standards and targets that Varney has set?
  • How would you feel about relying on the Department for Work and Pensions to manage some of your information needs?
  • How could you make better use of 'insight' within your business processes?
  • How would you segment your customer base? What do you think are the needs and motivations of each group? How well do you think you meet the expectations of these groups?
  • What scope do you have for integrating services with other parts of Government?
  • Are you in a position to bid for any of the proposed pilot 'Transformation Projects'?

7. Taking this forward

You may be feeling a little bewildered with the potential scope and scale of the Varney report so here are a few pointers on how you best to progress this work:

  • Take some collective timeout to think through your 'position' on Varney
  • Make sure your decision making is timely - don't act if there are some big unknowns and don't leave things too late
  • Manage the 'political' aspects of the potential change ensuring all of your key stakeholders are on board with your ideas - this will save you time and energy in the long run
  • Break the transformation down into bit sized chunks that make sense to your operational managers and be aware of the potential for 'scope creep'
  • Don't get too carried away with the vision - make sure your business case is robust
  • Adopt sound programme and project management to control the transformation and don't neglect the 'softer' leadership skills you will need to transform your organisation

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