City of York Council – “I’d like to complain about not being able to complain”

One of the mistakes that some organisations make is believing that ignoring complaints will make issues go away.

That rarely works. Instead the organisations image is dented and the credibility of the management structure is brought into question.

That seems to be happening wit the City of York Council at present.

They have three tier process for handling complaints. If a resident is not satisfied with a response to a first complaint then a second stage can be invoked. This  escalates the issue for consideration by a senior manager.

If this doesn’t work then, in theory at least, you can then escalate the matter to the Chief Executive.

Well you could, if the Council reads your complaint in the first place and acknowledges that they have received it.

For the last few months that doesn’t seem to have been happening.

Those emailing the complaints team at haveyoursay@york.gov.uk will have been lucky not to have been ignored. Requests for a “delivered” or “read” electronic receipt produce nothing.

The Councils IT department confirms that the Emails are being delivered. The only explanation can be that the complaints section has “downed tools”?

Oh and try the complaints telephone number quoted on the Council’s web site and you will get – you guessed – and answering machine!

There is a similar lack of response on the, recently announced, consultation address for the Low Poppleton Lane bus lane  lowpoppletonlane.trial@york.gov.uk

So the Council risks an adverse Ombudsman enquiry – with all that implies in terms of handling costs – simply because it took the metaphorical “phone off the hook”!

York Council’s secrecy culture rapped by Ombudsman

The Local Government Ombudsman has criticised the York Council for failing to publish background documents.

In the watchdogs annual performance letter it says,

“Last year we stressed that serving such notices should only be done exceptionally to avoid giving the appearance of a lack of transparency by the Council. It is, therefore, very disappointing to see this practice has continued this year.

Your Council has issued two section 32(3) confidentiality notices that we considered were not appropriate but the Council, when asked, did not comment on why they had done so. I would urge your Council to address this issue as a matter of urgency as it affects our ability to properly investigate complaints against it.

These instances lead me to have serious concerns about the Council’s commitment to positively address complaints made against it in an open and transparent manner”.

 In total the Ombudsman received 56 complaints about the York Council

Eight cases of maladministration, by the Council, were found last year.

So how good is the York Councils customer management system?

Hopefully Councillors will raise the veil of secrecy on 12th June when they receive another report on “Digital Services”. It is the latest episode in a drama which has offered much but has, so far, delivered very little to customers.

Put simply, the Council fails to manage its electronic interface with customers to an acceptable standard. Much faith was placed in the IT project which is now running 18 months behind schedule. So far, the only “on line” reports, using the “My Account” system, that can be made, concern litter.

These are usually dealt with quickly but are not without hiccups. An automatically generated “issue closed” Email message recently proved to be incorrect. The reported broken bottle was still there several hours after the issue had been closed (it was reopened).

But the main concern is that the vast majority of issues simply can’t be reported via the Councils web site with any confidence that action will be taken. They simply disappear into the ether with apparently random reference numbers generated which citizens find impossible to match to individual reports.

As we have said before, the system still lacks the flexibility of proprietary solutions like “fix my street”.  The Council could have bought a system off the shelf – as most other authorities have done – and by now would have been off and running.

All the Council can promise is that 7 more street service issues will be added to the system by the end of the summer.

It does claim that around 1000 digital transactions are completed each week but this includes high volume financial transactions.

The Council has seen a significant drop in the number of telephone calls that it receives. Fewer people visited the Customer Centre last year.

Significantly though, the Council still does not provide speed stats on key interfaces like Email. It is three years since the Council promised to improve its performance on this access channel.

It does look to customers like Emails still take 48 hours to be passed from the customer centre to the responsible department.

Some departments do later respond to reports lodged in this way.

Many do not.  

Performance “open data” on web site not updated. No figures provided for volumes. Email numbers completely missing

6 months since responsible Executive member publicly reviewed performance of customer contact centre

Extraordinary response from City of York Council to FOI request

Readers will recall that a few weeks ago we published a list of inquiries that York Councillors had recorded with the City of York Council.

The list (left) indicated how many inquiries individual Councillors had recorded during the 2015/16 year.

We submitted an Freedom of Information request asking for the up to date figures for the 2016/17 year.

The Council has now responded saying,

“This information is exempt under section 44 of the FOIA because it is considered that due to the forthcoming general election, it could affect public support for a particular party.

Should you wish to submit a new request for this information following the election, the council would be happy to consider this”.

Given that none of the York Councillors are candidates in the General Election we do wonder how voting intentions might be influenced by the publication of a factual list?

Perhaps the electors in the Hull Road and Micklegate Council by elections deserve to know how hard they might expect their new Councillors to work for them?

 

 

York “rewiring” plan; Cliff Richard, Fred Smith Electrical or City of York Council?

The York Council has said it will spend £10 million over the next 5 years on IT equipment. Their intention is to force residents to use electronic communications to communicate with the Council.

Cliff Richard – rewired for sound

Cliff Richard – rewired for sound

They promise (or threaten) that each local resident will have their own web page account.

The move comes following our revelation that the number contacting the Council by telephone or through a personal visit has spiralled since their move to the “West Offices”.

They have dubbed the scheme as service “rewiring” – a piece of jargon guaranteed to pass over the heads of most residents.

A report, nodded through by the Labour leadership on Tuesday, fails to make any kind of business case for the huge expenditure.

The report is riddled with management jargon and hyperbole plus much conjecture about what residents want.

Attached to the report is the 6 monthly review of service quality.

This revealed that many targets are already being missed by the Council with recycling rates reducing and the numbers using the bus service in sharp decline since Labour meddled with the services when they took office.

Confidence in the Councils ability to deal with reports and complaints has already been damaged.

Rewiring

The “app” launched to allow smart phone reporting of issues has flopped, some reports made using proprietary web tools were lost by the Council while frustrated residents – seeking information through Freedom of Information requests -frequently do not attract answers within legal target times.

But the main concern will be the implications for residents if the Council and its officials hide behind an electronic defensive barricade.

The plan will mean more outsourcing and local jobs will be lost as techno bureaucrats take over.

Public services will become DIY as residents are forced to fill in the gaps left by a retreating public sector.

………..and the march of more CCTV surveillance will continue in the background!

Complaints about the York Council continue at high level

The Council have belatedly published answers to questions posed at its meeting in December. One of the questions tabled asked about complaint levels towards the end of last year and also sought information about the source of service reports.

Concerns had been raised about whether some web generated reports had found their way into the system.

The number of complaints received by the Authority is reported as

Complaints
Jun – Nov   2013
Stage 1
511
Stage 2
126
Stage 3
2
Total
639

Stage 3 complaints are the most serious. The classification means that the complainant remains dissatisfied with the response provided by the Council

The overall number of contacts with the Council (by channel) are:

 

April

May

June

July

Aug

Sept

Total

Total telephone calls 2012

23980

23525

22654

22654

22373

23938

140851

Total footfall 2012

5775

6167

5706

6456

5997

6427

36528

Total Emails 2012

3716

2969

3232

4570

4134

3413

22034

“do it on line” calls 2012

1230

709

1101

1606

1291

1841

7778

Total telephone calls 2013

33587

29971

26320

34132

26385

32990

183385

Total footfall 2013

10415

9757

8061

10123

10259

12226

60841

Total Emails 2013

7088

5199

4474

5823

4825

4697

32106

“do it on line” calls 2013

755

634

934

1667

1471

2387

7848

 

“Smarter York” App 2013 – 200 reports.

So the number of reports of public service failings being made by York residents to the Council continues to grow.

The much vaunted Smarter York mobile phone “app” has proved to be a flop. The “app” was under-developed when launched and is very limited in its scope when compared to commercial alternatives like “My Council”.

The costs of dealing with contacts made by residents are much higher than were expected when the Council moved to its new HQ.

They bring further into question the wisdom of the decision by Labour Councillors to close down local branch offices in sub-urbs like Acomb.

York Council loses dozens of complaints

My Council

At least 50 reports about failing public service standards in York have not been actioned by the Council over the last couple of months.

The Council has claimed that reports submitted via the popular “My Council” Mobile app were not processed because they were indecipherable when uploaded to the Council.

Rather than get to the bottom of the problem, the reports were ignored.

Now an administrator for the “My Council” web provider (abavus.co.uk) has stepped in and offered to sort out the difficulties.

More and more people are using web sites like “My Council”, Fix my Street  , and Fill that hole”  to report issues.

This is to the advantage of Councils because the costs of processing issues electronically are much less than hard copy mail, personal callers or telephone communications.

However this case is likely to damage the credibility of the system in some residents eyes.

The Councils own mobile app (Smarter York) allows only a very small number of issues to be reported and user numbers have been disappointing.

The “Report it” section of the Council web site is cumbersome and has similar limitations.

The Council has been asked to sort out its data interface problems, ensure that reports blocked over the last couple of months are now entered onto its systems and to make efforts to contact those residents who may be unaware that issues that they have reported have not been actioned.

The industry generally needs to do more work on interface issues.

Councils in other parts of the country may be affected by incompatibility issues