To update Members on the annual statistics in relation to the Local Government and Health and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) and the Council’s corporate ‘3Cs’ procedure. This explains how we deal with the comments, compliments, correspondence and complaints we receive.
Councillor Boden presented the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) Annual Review of Complaints report to members.
Members made comments, asked questions and received responses as follows:
1. Councillor Mason said he was pleased to see there were more compliments than complaints and was keen to note that senior officers are very helpful in addressing and resolving complaints, for which he would particularly like to thank Dan Horn and Phil Hughes. It was also pleasing to see that officers are attempting to identify themes resulting from complaints in the last 12 months. Councillor Mason asked if these could be broken down into some form of data so the Panel can see where most complaints are coming from.
2. Councillor Boden said we need to think about what we are trying to do. It is not merely that we have a process in place to deal with complaints, and that so long as they are dealt with satisfactorily, they progress no further and do not end up going to the Ombudsman. So far as the three Ombudsman complaints are concerned, they are assessed, and it is not just about resolving the individual problem that exists but looking to see if there are underlying themes within those problems that need resolution to ensure change takes place to prevent problems reoccurring. It is by being open and positive about dealing with complaints, that changes to the good do take place. So, the grouping together in themes is valid, and there is no reason why that information cannot be more available. We want to better publicise our 3Cs service; complaints can be productive, and the Council wants to hear from people if things go wrong because we want to do better than we do now. There are always things that can be done better. Our attitude is that we will listen to people, and we will respond to them.
3. David Wright stated that every complaint is logged under a service and then broken down into areas or topics. After examination, there are no topics in each area that have recurring themes this year, although that is not to say that has not been the case in previous years.
4. Councillor Mason said looking at the data, most complaints seem to be for Refuse and asked if they are common or multiple complaints. David Wright advised that because Refuse is a frontline service, many complaints relate to missed bins. However, an online missed bins form has been developed for customers to report quickly and if it is a correct missed bin, the issue can be resolved quickly by going back to them for collection. If it is not a correct missed bin, then this can be followed up with the customer to explain why it has not been done.
5. Councillor Boden added that the figures relating to missed bins are slightly misleading, it is not that a certain number of bins were missed, but these are complaints where people felt that the service provided was wrong. When investigations take place, it is interesting how often we find that it was not the Council’s service at fault. This is also one area of work which interacts with the public daily, far more than anything else we do, but put in perspective, when comparing Fenland’s performance with some other local authorities, ours for missed bins is much better.
6. Councillor Booth said having a breakdown in the statistics is a step in the right direction and this is something he has been asking to see for years. He asked if there are any outliers in the figures that we feel do not represent what the true situation might be; there could be an issue whereby complaints are not being recorded in the first place. For example, Benefits is quite a contentious area yet only ten complaints are recorded, therefore it is probably something we need to look at around the culture of getting complaints recorded. It is not just about looking at the figures but about how we improve going forward which is what he has been espousing for years.
7. Councillor Boden responded that he has seen for himself when officers have taken it upon themselves to treat something as a complaint. They recognise it is to our advantage for complaints to be investigated. It is ingrained in the culture at Fenland District Council, and it is one of openness. The complaints procedures are clearly advertised, and officers are willing to advertise even further.
8. Councillor Connor commented that he agreed with Councillor Boden and said that he has very few complaints regarding missed bins. Each time a resident contacts him about a missed bin, he calls Adam Pratt who then deals with it straight away and when he goes back to the resident, they are very happy. This is one of the things that Fenland does exceptionally well, and he would like it placed on record that Adam is a great ambassador for Fenland District Council.
9. Councillor Miscandlon agreed, stating he had a vulnerable lady in his ward who had an issue with her bins; the problem was resolved by Adam who gave her his direct number. He paid credit to the services that Environmental Services provides.
10. Councillor Purser said that the service developed a special app for reporting missed bins or finding out which bin is due to be collected. The app works superbly, and it is a credit to whomever set it up and added that out of everything negative comes something positive.
11. Councillor Boden commented that this just shows what a large percentage of interaction there is regarding bins. No complaints have gone to the Ombudsman that have been upheld recently, the last one upheld was in 2018 and officers must be congratulated on in the way they deal with complaints. Unfortunately, some people go to the Ombudsman because they do not like what we do, but the Ombudsman finds our processes to be right time after time. He added that if comparing to other councils, it would be a surprise to see how much better ours is. It is something to be proud of and live up to but not to become complacent.
12. Councillor Mason said this is a very encouraging report.
The Overview and Scrutiny Panel AGREED to note the draft Overview & Scrutiny Annual Report for 2021-22.