Monday, August 28, 2006

Do Southampton City Council Take Complaints Seriously?

I sit on a City Council panel called the Resources Scrutiny Panel. This is a body of six Councillors which looks at Council policy and decisions on customer service, Human Resources, Information Technology and budgeting. The pannel is rather toothless, in that it can't make decisions.

All decisions are made by: 1) the whole Council (all 48 Councillors), the Cabinet (currently all Lib Dem) or individual Cabinet Members (currently all Lib Dem). Scrutiny Pannels can simply give advice or in some cases can delay a decision.

We meet roughly every two months, and our most recent meeting was last Tuesday.

One agenda item for the meeting was customer services. The Council are planning to introduce customer charters for the various council departments. These charters will include service levels which Council staff will adhere to when dealing with the public. They will also include internal service standards for staff themselves.

Whilst discussing this matter, we got on to the subject of complaints. Apparently the Council recieves about 1000 complaints a year. This may sound a lot, however when you consider that Southampton City Council receives approximately 2 million contacts from the public every year (telephone calls, emails, letters, visits to Gateway etc.), it is in fact a suspiciously low number.

I would be very happy if residents were so delighted with the service that they receive from the Council, that they only felt it necessary to complain 0.05% of the time.

However I suspect that it is more the case that the Council only records the most formal of cases as complaints. It may that where residents receive poor service and are frustrated by bureaucratic processes, it goes unreported. I would be the last person call for yet another layer of bureacracy, gathering statistics and shuffling paperwork. That said the Council should be looking at where it is not performing. It should be listening to its customers and seeking to improve its services and respond to feedback from customers. If it does not do this it will not improve. Having sensible statistics on where it is receiving complaints must be a part of this.

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