Let’s Talk Pencil-Pusher: Lesson VI—Scrutiny (Sixth of a series, translating bureaucrat-speak into what it means for folk in East Lothian on St Paddy’s Day)
Our council operates what is called a ‘scrutiny’ or self-evaluation mechanism. This consists of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that tracks service of its 100,000 customers, a series of statistics tracked by officials called ‘Statutory Performance Indicators’ (SPIs) and two committees (Audit & Governance and Policy & Performance Review) that meet regularly to track performance. For fairness, both committees are chaired by members of the opposition and meet in public.
The CRM now includes a feedback mechanism that tracks stage 1 complaints (dealt with immediately), stage 2 complaints (formal complaint investigated by an officer) and stage 3 complaints (handled by the Chief Executive). Anything beyond that goes to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. ELC is receiving around 1,000 complaints each year, about 42% involving property maintenance, 21% transportation and just under 10% housing management. Of these only 8 went to the third stage and two to the SPSO (both partly upheld and ELC complied).
That may seem a lot but this period covers the atrocious weather. Against that, 96% of complaints were acknowledged within five days and 83% resolved within 20 days and compliments have been running at 300 per year, actually increasing during the bad weather. Social Work received over 25% of them, possibly because home helps were trudging through snow to make sure that no-one was missed. Bottom line is that it is definitely worth complaining about poor service.
However, on SPIs, the jury is still out. Most of these were determined years ago and not all make sense. For example, one SPI is the number of children in council care. No-one knows whether a higher count is good (we’re finding more children needing care) or bad (more and more children need care). ELC is good at collecting refuse (£74 per house vs £92 for Scotland) but bad at repairing our houses promptly (84% vs 91% for Scotland).
Bottom line: ELC has no illusions about its imperfections and is genuinely trying to use management systems to iron them out while keeping its customers informed