Quality Management and Operational processes

Work and Income is a government department that provides financial assistance and employment services throughout New Zealand. There are over 140 service centres grouped into 11 regions throughout the country and are networked to five contact centres with a central processing unit based in Wellington. The Community Services Card that was introduced in the early 1990s is among other welfare services designed to help eligible individuals and families with the costs of health care, services and medical prescriptions.

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Public subsidy of primary health care is based on a mixture of families’ income and special assistance for children thereby offering a reduced rate for prescriptions and health care costs. According to the Ministry of social development, 1. 1 million New Zealanders were issued with Community Service Card (CSC) by the end of 2004. Theses cards are valid for one year and the process of verification and issuing of cards is repeated on each one of the registered beneficiaries.

The analysis of CSC is centered on the current processing procedure that has been impacting the supply chain of the desired quality service to the consumer. The consumers of the CSC who can access subsidized health services are those from low to middle income earners. Customer satisfaction is measured against the services provided by Work and Income from the initial application, documents validation through to call centre performances on dealing with enquiries and the employees’ plays a central role in delivering this public service .

The demand for Community Service Cards has been on the increase since the advent of recession, swine flu and related seasonal influencers. The use of the Community Services Card scheme seems to have lowered the barrier against accessing GP services and according to the studies by the Ministry of Health (1999) the cardholders are more likely than non-cardholders to be in the group of those who visit the doctor frequently. Given this evidence Work and Income employees could be overstrained by the workload to process the new and renewal applications.

Therefore it is paramount to review the processes and tools used by the Work and Income to support its endeavour on providing the Ministry of Social Development with the ability to lead a social development approach across the social sector. In reviewing the card service process, we found out that there are significant issues related to the administration supply chain of the Services Card thereby decreasing efficiency in offering services to the beneficiaries.

The issues articulated below impacts on the quality of services, administration costs and consumers’ satisfaction. While the vigorous process of assessing entitlement, issuing cards and promoting and distributing information about the Community Services Card is essential to eliminate possible fraudulent activities, some of the cost could be avoided by minimising any task that is duplicated when processing clients who are already beneficiaries to other services within the Ministry of Social Development.

French (2001) urges that public service managers in New Zealand tend to operate with the framework of Agency, which assumes that all workers have vested interests and are opportunistic. The idea of public servant goodwill and a desire to do a good job for people, and professional ethics as an underpinning assurance of quality, have been displaced by performance appraisals and measurable outcomes. This in theory is reflected on the CSC brochures and the recording of all telephone calls that are received by the card processing unit call centre.

Given this it could be suggested that CSC employees like any other government department are entangled within the Agency Theory process, controlled by the techniques of management and market competition (French 2001) Further to this, it is also paramount to note that the continuance of bureaucratic and maintenance of the above mentioned barriers in the public sector could suggest that managers are apprehensive to apply strategic management in their work.

The current management practice seems to prefer pyramidal hierarchies and according to French (2001) this has been affecting productivity, morale and the general climate in an organisation as employees become interchangeable resources. At CSC processing unit, the emphasis of accountability, efficiency and effectiveness is intensified with tasks and closer monitoring of individual employees for their appraisal.

In our view this hasn’t achieved much, but loss of autonomy to effectively execute their morale obligation to their clients. Therefore the culture of compliance becomes the focus of their work and compliance is not quality because consumers’ satisfaction maybe overlook due to tick a box approach whereas quality is the most important aspect for CSC. This approach does not only infringe the core objectives of the department, but it questions the true meaning of quality service.

Quality service in the public sector is nothing but conformance to customer’s specifications on a consistent level. Goetsch (2001) urges that a quality focussed is where the provision of a service that addresses the clients’ needs and requirements at a reasonable cost is foremost in the minds of all involved in the delivery of the service. This kind of approach will increase the satisfaction level of the customers thereby defining the effectiveness of the service.