Complaints made to Calderdale Council last year were less than half the previous year, but officers say any lessons will continue to be learned and procedures streamlined to achieve further improvements.
And it is not all brickbats for the council – the local authority received more compliments in 2017-18 than 2016-17 and these were four times the number of complaints.
Both the council’s Governance and Business Committee and the Strategy and Performance Scrutiny Board received presentations on the figures, which show that between April 1, 2017, and March 31, 2018, the council received 203 complaints, of which 34 (17 per cent) were withdrawn, leaving 168 to be instigated, less than half the number received in 2016-17.
Officers briefing Strategy and Performance Scrutiny Board members said figures were moving in the right direction and they were happy with the results where complaints handled by the council was concerned.
But there was work do be done where complaints escalated to the Local Government Ombudsman were concerned, with 70 per cent of the 71 upheld, although the number was reduced by ten from 81 in 2016-17.
Coun Mohammad Naeem (Lab, Park) said the high number of complaints upheld by the Local Government Ombudsman were a cause for concern and asked for assurances processes were in place to deal with this.
Officers agreed this was higher than other similar sized councils, some improvements could be seen by the team themselves and other councils were also being contacted to see what they were doing to address complaints to the Ombudsman.
These ranged from a parent’s concerns about her son’s home-to-school transport, issues with a takeaway restaurant and planning enforcement to a resident’s complaint the street light placed in front of his home was so bright it affected his sleep.
On general policy, Coun Angie Gallagher (Lab, Elland), asked at what point complaints were triggered. The aim, said officers, was to resolve it there and then or within a short period of time, staff expected to advise customers if that was not possible but work out another timescale with them.
Coun Jenny Lynn (Lab, Park) asked what the connection was between complaint and compliment and Coun Regan Dickenson (Con, Rastrick) said complaints councillors sometimes received smacked of poor customer service.
Officers said it was important to place things in context – every week council staff had hundreds and thousands of contacts with customers and the number of complaints last year, 168 which needed to be investigated, was a very small percentage.
One said: “Our customer service is getting better – that’s not to say we think it can’t be improved. I wanted to put it into some sort of perspective.”
She said no-one goes to work to do a bad job but sometimes people did have bad days but overall customer service was good.
Where improvements could be made training was carried out and, as an example of its effectiveness, that undertaken by sports services staff was expected to lead to complaints decreasing and compliments increasing.
Strategy and Performance Scrutiny Board chair Coun Paul Bellenger (Lib Dem, Greetland and Stainland) asked if compliments were passed down to staff and was told they were.
Coun George Robinson (Hipperholme and Lightcliffe) asked if emailed responses to customers could be signed and officers agreed this would be a good improvement.
Coun Naeem asked if the board could be updated more regularly with figures but Coun Scott Benton (Con, Brighouse) said he did not see the requirement for that as complaints had gone down and improvement measures were in place.
As far as the statistics go, in 2016-17 the Economy and Environment directorate saw a significant increase in complaints following changes to the waste and recycling service.
Since then the council’s customer services team has worked with estate management and contractors Suez to ensure normal service was resumed, leading to a reduction in complaints to that department (which still received the highest number, 81).
Of the 203 complaints, 71 (35 per cent) were upheld or partly upheld, 92 (45 per cent) were not upheld, one is on hold and five (2.5 per cent) are ongoing investigations with no outcome yet.attitude of staff, 31 were about the level of service provided, 29 were about delays in providing services, 13 were about the quality of services provided, four were classed as discrimination, four were about enforcement, three were about confidentiality, two were about poor communication, two were about financial matters, one was classed as an appeal and one classed as “other”.
Of the 168 which were investigated in 2017-18, all were investigated at service manager level.
Ninety six of the 168 complaints were resolved within ten working days and another 43 within 20 working days, 24 over that limit, an average response time of 12.72 working days, up from 9.73 the preceding year – due to some complex and challenging complaints, councillors were told.