The Digital Services Manager introduced the report to the committee advising that this was an update on the report that was brought to Committee in September 2022. As this was an interim report a final updated version would be brought back to Committee in September 2023.
The Complaints Resolution Manager gave a summary of the update, advising that the policy had been revised and signed off by Cabinet.
Some of the improvements to the policy included simplification of the layout and reduction in size.
There was also clarification on the different processes followed between Corporate and Social Services.
In relation to corporate complaints, the timescales had been reduced from 12 months to six months, which was in line with other Local Authorities. The refusal criteria was also detailed as well as including performance monitoring details.
There were four workshops planned for delivery for staff across the Council, which would commence in May 2023.
In relation to ‘My Council Services’, the software used to record and monitor complaints, compliments and comments had seen an increase in comments, with over 4,000 received and upon analysis, this was in relation to requests for service. In light of this, two forms were created, one for refuse and the other for Wastesavers. This meant that requests went straight to the service area and not recorded as a comment, this had resulted in the comments being significantly reduced.
My Council Services software would be updated to reflect the new service area structures as well as in the annual report, including service area improvement brought about by compliments and complaints received.
In terms of consistency and standardisation of the complaints process, the policy provided a new uniformed approach in complaints handling and the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales was keen that the Council followed the two-step process, which was now firmly in place.
In relation to supporting and developing other service areas, the team had been working very closely to analyse compliments and complaints, recommendations of which had provided an insight into how services could be improved for residents.
In terms of reviewing the unacceptable actions by customer policy, this would need inclusion of other departments such as health and safety and customer services.
Finally, improving digital accessibility, under the digital strategy the team would be looking to support skills around digital inclusion for staff.
Committee Member Comments:
§ Councillor Cocks considered that the report was thorough and useful and that it was good to see positive comments as well as complaints. Councillor Cocks found the Newport App useful, however referred to more marginalised people who did not have access to computers. Since the budget, there was a review in the ability of people contacting the Council by phone and the hours of availability. Mitigation measures appeared to make computers available for training people. How did this system accommodate those who did not have access to a computer or were unable to attend training sessions.
The Digital Services Manager advised that Digital Strategy made specific inclusion regarding digital skills. People could also make a complaint by phone which was a valid way of complaining and it did not have to be provided in writing. In terms of the channel shift, this brought a wider debate for the organisation however access would be provided through numerous channels.
§ The Chair agreed that this was a good report with progress being made and asked to pass on thanks to the team. The issue was training and ensuring that the citizens panel was fully aware of how to raise a complaint. The advocates of representatives for people were councillors, therefore if people did have complaints, they could contact their local councillor. It was about making every avenue possible for the people of Newport to make complaints, compliments and comments.
Secondly, the six-month report was presented and referred to figures not shown in the report, the Chair requested that the Committee get a flavour of where the council was in six months through the year and if a trend data could be provided. As an example, if the council was receiving 101complaints regarding fly tipping, were those complaints dealt with by the relevant department and were lessons learned. It was the end result that was important and whether any action had been taken regarding the complaint which would benefit the community. Was the public getting value for money for the service and was the Council providing the right service with the resources available.
The Strategic Director, Transformation and Corporate advised that the format could be looked into however, the Committee needed to be mindful that it did not stray into role of the Performance Scrutiny Committees looking at the performance of those services. The Governance and Audit Committee role was around the application of the policy. However, the six month review was a legitimate question and this could be reviewed.
The Digital Services Manager advised that the other point to make was the period of transition, the figures would be slightly misleading because they were not complete. The reason being that the complaints team at one point was an extra step in the chain rather than it going to directly to a service, it was passed on to the complaints team. That was a flavour of changes going forward and this would have an impact on the figures.
§ Councillor Jordan also referred to the telephony services for those who were not able to access computers and mentioned that in Torfaen, if a customer contacted them by phone, they would be immediately transferred to a back office where someone would assist in filling out an online form. The Digital Services Manager advised that although Newport City Council did not get many requests, this service was available through the contact centre.
The Governance and Audit Committee considered the updates within the report and obtained as necessary, any assurance on progress to date.