Almost disastrous, but redeemed by 2nd tier management with good communications & initiative
Newport Passport Office | Identity & Passport Office
On arrival, one is escorted through an over-sensitive Garrett PD6500i arch by a polite security guard. One moves left through the arch and states one's appointment time and name to one of two receptionists who are seated behind computers. They have evidently been trained to smile, but any questions out of the ordinary elicit a glare.
Being a government organisation and therefore a monopoly, and with a workforce being protected against performance-enhancing disciplinary measures by their seniors' fear of political embarrassment, one would not expect to find a motivated staff detail that are flexible and wanting to go the extra mile, so I will be correspondingly gentle in my scoring.
There is no WiFi and no sense of regret at wasting users' time, or of the the very obvious fact that the salaries of the workers here are being paid by persons who are waiting for these services.
In spite of arriving on time, and it being not late in the day (0930), one is made to wait 17 minutes before being called to a little booth, where a very pleasant but evidently stressed lady named Sue checks my papers.
Now, the worst-case scenario event occurs. During the planning phase in the run-up to my visit, we have checked the website of the passport office and have followed their advice to the letter. This advice details that we should visit a Post Office and use their checking service. We have duly done so and have spent around an hour at the Aberdare Post Office, obtaining help and advise from Tina, the lady who supplied us with Passport Renewal Application forms. On meeting Tina, we have handed over our son to be assisted with sitting at the right height on the stool, and having two or three attempts at getting his photo done. The result has looked blurred and grainy; I have expressed my doubts to Tina, and she has reassured me that since everyone else uses this photo booth, there'll be no problem.
But there is a problem. Sue shares my concerns about the photos and tells me there is no way that they will be accepted. Sue seems very unhappy about disappointing me and seems to be suffering as much as I am at having to give me the bad news. She is very courteous and cooperative and allows me to record the conversation for my records. I realise however, that I will need to deal with her line manager. I wait around 5-7 minutes and her line manager comes along.
The line manager is Katherine Williams. She has evidently been primed and is on the defensive when she arrives. She seems to opt for the cold and professional tack. I realise I will not make much headway with her, and so simply use her to build a picture of the overall command structure of this organisation. Katherine says she is unwilling that I record her, so I ask her patience that she should bear with me while I type notes on my iPhone.
I determine the following structure. The most senior person present today, and Acting Head of Department, is Gaynor Hooper. What I understand is that this role is shared and that other Heads of Department are Sharon Gammage and Ev Sully.
These people report to Mr Fitzgerald who is the Senior Executive Officer for the Identity and Passport Office. Mr Fitzgerald reports to Mr Alan Frame who is the Head of the Passport Service. Mr Frame reports directly to the Home Office.
Anyway, the notion of reputational damage via a dissatisfied client who is willing to share his findings widely, appears to be an inaccessible concept to Katherine Williams, who seems more interested in diverting me to a faceless means of escalating the issue. She therefore seems very pleased to advise me of how her organisation will very graciously offer me a free stamp if I want to write and express my concerns to Customer Services (presumably at Globe House in London).
Having exhausted Katherine's usefulness and catalogue of information, I request to meet with Gaynor Hooper. Gaynor arrives with a form, is very well trained, appears genuinely empathetic, and proceeds to annotate the events that have led to this point, as per my narrating them.
In spite of Gaynor's sympathetic affinity, I agree that there is no getting around the fact that the photos that I have been supplied with by the photo booth in Aberdare, are simply no good (notwithstanding their confident and surprising assurances at the time). Want I need to avoid however, is being told that I need to reschedule a meeting and come back when I have better photos, as I fear that a new appointment may take a week to obtain, and we are due to go abroad tomorrow - hence the appointment for a same-day service.
Gaynor is very apologetic and says that if I can get my son to come in they will assist me with everything quickly, and I won't have to make another appointment.
Happily, my son is just 37 minutes away, so I call my wife and she drives him in.
In summary, I would be happy with the performance of the senior levels of management here if they worked for me; mid-management needs some training in empathy and problem resolution; and around half the most junior level are very good, while the other half need to suffer some character building hardships. Perhaps they should be made to raise funds for a local charity and go and climb Kilimanjaro, or something of that nature.