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Thursday, 21 June 2012

WCA "Mystery Shopping" - another myth exposed

As many will know, DWP has its own dictionary where words and expressions that have a clear and well understood meaning in common parlance have a rather different application by DWP.  We have one here.
The key features of true ‘Mystery Shopping’ are that it is undertaken by an independent organisation and that it focuses on the key interface between the customer & provider.   This version of Mystery Shopping has neither. 
·         It is completed by Atos for Atos on Atos.
·         It does not include the WCA itself.
When you look at its content, it no more than a site/admin audit, which has its place in the overall scheme of things, but referring to it as Mystery Shopping is highly misleading and suggests it is something it most certainly is not.
Furthermore results are not collated centrally to provide an overall picture of the service being provided.  It is clear that DWP has no interest in even these very limited service standards and is happy to abdicate the responsibility totally to Atos and let them get on with it.
This is a highly unusual approach to effective outsourced contract management and ensuring that high standards are provided.

Added 25/06 following ANewWay’s comment.
Sadly, the attitude is fairly widespread.  DWP has trouble distinguishing between delegation and abdication.
From my own experience, both Atos and DWP complaints staff are not able (or willing) to follow a logical step by step argument and regularly confuse cause and effect.  They are particularly poor at identifying process failure.  A regular problem for them of course is that they are fighting on extremely dodgy ground which means they frequently manoeuvre themselves into an inescapable corner and have to fall back on the two common cop-outs: 
a)                  it is a matter of policy [i.e. the Government’s responsibility not ours]’ and/or
b)                  I/we have nothing further to add [which is like invoking the 5th Amendment].
As you may have found, the final stage of the Atos complaints process – the so-called “Independent Tier” in itself makes any support the Government claims to have for openness, honesty and the importance of public accountability a bit of a joke.  It is no less than undemocratic.  DWP’s ‘defence’ is that the secrecy is contractual and revealing identity would put them in breach of contract and hint at having to pay Atos some form of compensation.  All I can say is:
·         Who on earth agreed such a ridiculous condition in the contract in the first place?  This supports the view that the public sector generally is very poor at contract negotiation and is frequently outmanoeuvred by its private sector ‘business partners’.
·         Why has nothing been done about it since?  The PM’s poetic reference to the “sterilising effect of sunlight” apparently only applies selectively.
Any suggestion that this tier is independent is a further embarrassment and it is worse that DWP defends the suggestion to the hilt – I guess they would prefer to look stupid defending the indefensible than admitting they have made a mistake and setting it right.  I know for sure however which approach is more honest and which would better help to re-establish their integrity & credibility.
The complaints process in DWP itself is also a rocky road and not that dissimilar to Atos in terms of skill & ability.  I’ll be in a better position in a few months to comment more authoritatively on its comparative performance.  All I can say at the moment is that it is overly pedantic and slow.  But if this is what it takes to achieve the right result, so be it for now.

1 comment:

ANewWay said...

I see the same rationale in the complaints procedure set up by the DWP or the private contractors. They need to be objective and unbiased and of course they aren't. Then, when they dismiss a complaint and do nothing about it they claim 'we've followed procedure'.