VPR Virtual Post Room

The Emperor’s New Clothes?

The purpose of this bulletin is to update you on the work that your GEC has been and is doing in respect of the VPR and to ensure that members play their part by reporting and recording any problems that arise to ensure that the fullest picture is available for scrutiny

VPR rolled out across the agency

You will be aware that VPR was rolled out across LR from September 2014. The rollout was protracted, and impacted by the strain on CPU experienced across the network.

The majority of incoming post is now redirected to the Coventry office, where it is opened sorted and scanned onto the LR system by TNT. Any work that cannot be captured automatically and certain other types of work including FRs are then dealt with by exceptions teams made up of LR staff at Coventry and Nottingham offices.

PCS raises concerns

TNT staff are allowed to have sight of all incoming post before LR staff have had an opportunity to vet it to determine whether it is appropriate for TNT to have access to this data. As things stand there is a real danger that TNT will have access to inappropriate material including personal data.

Because of this PCS believe that the VPR may fall foul of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and PCS has raised serious concerns with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO).

More recent incidents relating to incorrectly opened and incorrectly scanned mail including personally addressed, recorded delivery and HR correspondence have also been referred to OFCOM for them to investigate.

There also appears to be ongoing delays associated with post being redirected. LR management have told us that a remedy is being put in place, but the benefits for the teams and customers are yet to be seen.

In response to the many queries that LR staff are receiving from customers, in some instances Management have instructed them not to mention the VPR as it is not for customers to have a say in how LR manages its post. Although management have communicated some of the changes to customers, they have not advised customers of any 3rd party involvement, perhaps leaving customers with the impression that scanning is being completed by trained LR staff. PCS therefore do not believe that this has been done in a clear and upfront or consistent manner, particularly as some of these communications have only been released by ‘Blog’.

PCS therefore believes that this is disingenuous, particularly as in our view, it would appear that VPR is contributing to a worse service for customers.

PCS have consistently raised concerns and opposed the implementation of the VPR. Whilst we are primarily concerned about the impact that this could have on our members’ jobs, we are also concerned that the VPR is leading to an inferior level of service for our customers.

When we have raised these concerns with management they have simply stated that they are keen to change customer behaviour, through reducing the amount of paper received (reduced requisitions) and have stated that their priority is increasing the numbers of applications being lodged electronically.

This has led us to the conclusion that although short term fixes are being put in place for the VPR, LRs clear priority is to push customers down digital channels. PCS are therefore concerned that the main drive behind VPR is to achieve e-mandation through the back door. This has the potential to have massive implications for members’ jobs longer term.

Members have their say

During recent Directors’ visits around the agency PCS members have been very vocal about the problems being experienced and their concerns about the impact that the VPR is having on the level of service that they are able to deliver to customers.

Members also made the point that the positive messages and bulletins that have been issued by the VPR management team in no way reflect the reality on the ground. Members have reported that Directors appeared to be shocked to hear that there are so many ongoing problems, which raises a question about the channels of communication in management circles.

We would encourage members to ensure that any issues that arise as a result of VPR are properly recorded to give a more realistic picture of how VPR is actually working. You should also make your local PCS reps aware of any such issues.

The future for VPR?

The most recent VPR bulletin states that the TNT contract expires in June 2016 and that preliminary work is already being carried out to “what options are available to us in terms of tendering”.

The only acceptable outcome of any such tendering exercise can be for the VPR to be brought in house and operated by staff who are Civil Servants. This would allay many of the fears that we have around data protection and would give LR direct control over the data it receives by post.

PCS believe however that before LR can even consider retendering for VPR there must be a full open and honest evaluation on how VPR is working, with the key question being “is it in the best interest of our customers to continue operating a VPR?”

PCS VPR bargaining demands

PCS will therefore be pursuing the following important demands in our ongoing discussions with management.

  • LR must carry out a full open and frank evaluation of VPR, giving genuine consideration to whether it should continue or not. This should take place in consultation with the DTUS
  • No re-tendering process should proceed until the evaluation has concluded.
  • If following evaluation LR decides that VPR is to continue, LR management must build a competitive bid to bring the service in house.
  • The current level of service is unacceptable and must be addressed. The failures of VPR must not be used as a means to force customers down digital channels.
  • Any efficiencies realised from VPR must not lead to members being placed at risk of compulsory redundancy.

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