The report was presented by Lee Henley.
Referring to the table on page 28, Councillor Anderson noted that the timeliness in responding to complaints had improved from the previous year. He recalled that the service had aimed to focus on this area from last year’s report and asked what improvements had been made since the report last year. Lee Henley answered that the volume of complaints was low and that the 75% was based on 8 complaints closed and 6 of those were responded to within the timeframe. He explained that Children's Services complaints were complex and that the report showed an improvement from last year.
Councillor Watson asked how much of the received complaints had been upheld and if there was a national benchmark to compare the service’s figures against. She also asked if there were improvements that had been made from complaints and whether there were plans in place to decrease the number of complaints. Lee Henley referred to page 32 and 33 and said that nine complaints had been received for Children’s Services and four of those had been upheld which was 44%. He explained that there was not a national benchmark but the national public sector local government ombudsman report on complaints had shown that Children’s Services received the most complaints. The average figure for this was 67% upheld across the country so Thurrock’s 44% was low in comparison. He went on to say that the service learnt from complaints as detailed in the report including the learning from ombudsman findings. The theme for upheld complaints for this report was delays.
The Chair sought more detail on the complaints in regards to disabled children and whether the significant rise in Members enquires were due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Lee Henley answered that there had been 4 complaints in the disabled children team and 3 of those had been upheld. The learning theme was delays in communicating with parents which the service would be focussing on. In regards to Members enquiries, he said that this was increasing across all council departments but was not Covid related.
The Chair commented that complaints should be encouraged to enable the service to learn from these. Councillor Anderson asked if the service had made changes to processes to reduce the number of delays in complaints. Janet Simon said that there were tracking of complaints and processes in place to ensure complaints were on track. Staff were trained and awareness was raised to ensure people knew about the complaints process. She mentioned that the service also received compliments.
Nicola Cranch queried whether the delays in communicating messages to complainants were due to staff being wary of giving bad news. Janet Simon explained that delays tended to be a result of not being able to reach a family by phone. The service aimed to communicate messages in writing to ensure that a response was provided.
Councillor Akinbohun asked whether future reports could include a comparison of complaints to other neighbouring boroughs. Lee Henley answered that this could be looked at in future reports.
Councillor Watson questioned whether there were any Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and the turnaround times for these. Lee Henley explained that there were FOIs in Children’s Services and across the council the council’s performance in responding to FOI’s was strong with 96% responded to within timeframe. However, FOIs differed to complaints and were not covered in this report. He said that FOI formed part of an Information Governance Report which was covered under the Standards and Audit Committee.
That scrutiny committee considered and noted the report.