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A difficult year at the DVLA ends on a high note for its call centre.

Byline: By Robin Turner Western Mail

It would be an understatement to say it has not been the best of years for the DVLA. In February the huge complex at Morriston, in Swansea, was attacked by school caretaker Miles Cooper whose mailed bomb exploded in the centre's post room.

In June, managers at the offices finished the embarrassing task of announcing its inquiry into internet pornography being viewed by staff had come to an end, with 18 sacked and 147 reprimanded.

And then, in August, DVLA clerk Alan Baumber was jailed for seven months for stealing hundreds of postal orders sent in by hapless licence applicants.

Then, last month, MPs criticised "amazingly high" levels of sick leave among staff at the DVLA and the Driving Standards Agency.

But, at long last, the 5,000-worker licensing centre has something to celebrate.

Yesterday the centre announced it had been recognised as the most improved call centre in Europe after collecting a top honour at the European Call Centre Awards 2007.

Shortlisted in the category Best Improvement Strategy, DVLA beat 28 other entrants, including Legal & General, GNER and National Savings & Investments.

Clive Bennett, chief executive of the DVLA, said, "The award is a fantastic achievement for the team and a reflection of the hard work put in over the last year to improve skills and performance levels across the centre.

"We have made giant strides as a call centre, with a 23% increase in calls answered compared to last year, a reduction in repeat calls and a customer satisfaction level of 91%."

Yesterday, the leader of Swansea Council's Conservative group Rene Kinzett said, "Congratulations to the DVLA. It's good to hear a public body operating in Swansea has worked hard to improve its services to the public after setting out the year on what has been quite a bad footing."

Referring to problems over Swansea Council's controversial eGovernment scheme, Mr Kinzett, a Swansea West parliamentary candidate in the next general election, added, "Maybe Swansea Council could learn a few lessons from the DVLA."

The panel of judges at the European Call Centre Awards said, "The DVLA produced an ambitious improvement strategy, which has had a huge impact on productivity, quality, internal communication and customer satisfaction. In our eyes, a deserved winner for 2007."

At the Old Bailey in September, where mail bomber Miles Cooper was given an indeterminate sentence for attacks on British institutions, Karen Andrews, the worker who opened the explosive package said she had been "shunned" by other staff since the incident.

She told the court, "One manager even wanted me to apologise for what happened on the day."

MPs concerned about sick leave at the centre found, on average, employees had three weeks a year sick leave, although that figure was bumped up by "a few people on long-term sickness," they said.

Public accounts committee chairman Edward Leigh said it was surprising the agency could "function adequately".

The Department for Transport said it was improving procedures to help cut absences and address underlying causes.

Meanwhile, the clerk who stole postal orders, Alan Baumber, from Burry Port, admitted 14 offences of obtaining money by deception at Swansea Crown Court and was jailed for seven months and ordered to repay the pounds 3,000 over eight months.

And the DVLA's inquiry into the circulation of "inappropriate" emails, some pornographic, at its offices was prompted after it was noticed the huge computers at the centre were slowing down.

The agency said the matter was now "officially closed."

IT experts pinpointed which of the DVLA's staff were using the machines containing pornography.

Yesterday Ian Broom, a delighted head of the DVLA's Contact Centre, said, "A key factor in our success has been the focus on promoting staff involvement and interaction across our business, particularly in terms of communication, performance and quality.

"This has resulted, we are proud to say, in a much improved customer experience."
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 5, 2007
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