Cllr Bob Webb
Cllr Bob Webb

Labour will instigate a debate on how the council is responding – or not responding – to residents at a meeting this Thursday.

Customer service statistics show the council has failed to answer calls from the public at all in many cases, and in other cases only after waits in excess of 15 mins.

The problem has been exacerbated by ruling Lib Dem and Green councillors agreeing to cut the number of staff answering resident telephone calls in 2019, meaning existing staff are under even more pressure, say Labour councillors.

Labour councillor Bob Webb will propose a council motion pushing for a review of how customer services operate in the council. He said:

“The Lib Dem-Green administration has basically washed its hands of residents’ problems in the last few years, since making staff cuts to the main council telephone line. How little they care about residents’ problems is evidenced by the fact that they’ve said the council won’t even bother to call back when it misses a resident’s call. It’s difficult to see how it could get much worse really.

“At its lowest level of performance, residents were waiting on average for over 18 mins to have their calls answered, meaning many were waiting far longer than that. What’s currently missing is a willingness from ruling councillors to find a solution to the problem. Instead, it’s – do this online or be prepared to have a very bad experience with the council, despite the best efforts of its hard-working staff”.

The council blames a struggle to recruit staff and specific issues, like the failing digital ResPark scheme, for excessive pressure being placed on an understaffed team answering calls.

Often the failure of a council service, such as housing repairs or Digi ResPark, combined with long waits to have calls answered, result in staff fielding calls from residents who are very upset or angry. These are aspects of how the council works that could and should be remedied, said Cllr Webb:

“We are calling on Lib Dem-Green ruling councillors to apologise for the poor performance residents have experienced over the past couple of years and review how the customer services function works. The council needs to find ways to improve the working experience for its staff if it wants to retain them, and to make the experience of calling the council far easier for residents.

“Although the council is claiming performance is improving, around one in three calls to the council customer service number were abandoned between July and September, presumably because residents got tired of the long wait for a response.

“This poor experience appears to be part and parcel of the Lib Dem-Green Council’s efforts to push people online to deal with the council, but that does not work for everyone”.

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