The Statutory & Corporate Complaints Manager (SCCM), Tina Martin, presented the report which highlighted the number of complaints and representations received in the year. There was a three stage process to complaints but the aim was to resolve these swiftly in the first stage. There had been 62 compliments in the reported year. The report also showed the key issues of these complaints and what the service departments could learn from them as it was important to enable the Council to improve services.
The Chair noted compliments had reduced from the previous reported year of 2015/16 and asked what could be done to increase the number of compliments. The SCCM felt there were more compliments but they were not being logged. She intended to speak with the service departments to remind them of the procedure to log compliments as well as complaints.
Councillor Collins referred to the 79% of responses on Members enquiries within the timeframe for the reported year of 2015/16 on page 24 of the agenda and questioned why the other 21% had not been responded to on time. He asked if that had been due to complexity or other reasons. The timeframe for this was shorter and it was not always possible to provide a comprehensive response within the timeframe given. To do so would compromise on the quality of the response. Councillor Collins went on to say it could sometimes take a while to sort through files and find the right answer which could be quite complex. He praised the work the service departments had done and encouraged them to keep up the good work.
Councillor Redsell echoed the Chair’s earlier comments regarding the reduction of compliments and asked whether it could be down to people not phoning in to give the compliments. This was reliant on Officers and staff to send the compliments to the generic mailbox that had been set up specifically for compliments to enable them to be logged. The SCCM aimed to address this through a discussion with the service departments to ensure this was being done.
Councillor Redsell referred to the 94 completed complaints at stage one on page 21 of the agenda and noted that out of the 94, two got to stage two and one to stage three. She sought clarification on what happened to the other 91 remaining complaints in stage one. The SCCM explained that those at stage one were not upheld or resolved as the complainant was happy with the outcome. The service departments were also introducing alternative dispute resolution (ADR) whereby if the complainant decided they were not happy after all, a three way meeting would be set up to try to resolve the complaint before escalating to the next stage. This had been working well so far.
The Vice-Chair commented on the root causes of complaints on page 22 of the agenda which he could see a correlation on why people complained. He also commented on the striking amount of complaints that were not upheld on page 23 of the agenda and asked if these were due to high expectations from the Children’s Services that would lead to complaints. There were a lot of raised expectations and the departments were not always able to give service users what they wanted. They needed to be clear on what could and could not be delivered. The SCCM felt the number of complaints that were not upheld was positive as it showed the service was providing a good service. From investigations, Officers found some complaints did not have much substance but the team would still provide the service. There were no failings, only raised expectations from service users.
The YCR referred to the increase in the delays in service compared to the previous year on page 22 of the agenda and questioned whether this was due to disgruntled or unhappy people that the Vice-Chair had eluded to in his earlier comments. The delays were related to fitting appointments in to meet with complainants. There were steps to take and people probably felt these took too long.
The Chair referred to one of the root causes on page 22 of the agenda which was staff conduct/attitude and queried what the process was on dealing with this. There were two routes the complaint could follow which was a discussion between the staff member and their line manager or a referral to Human Resources if the complaint was deemed to be very serious. The latter route would mean the complaint would be taken out of the complaints procedure as it would become a staff conduct issue. Most staff complaints were dealt by line managers. The Chair went on to comment that it was good to see a reduction in the number of complaints from the previous reported year of 2015/16. She stated the importance of good first impressions that front line staff should be making as it was a representation of the Council.
Echoing the Chair’s comments, Councillor Redsell sought clarification on how often staff were trained in phone etiquette. She mentioned that she had a staff member answer the phone whilst eating which should not have happened. Furthermore, she was able to hear the conversation in the background. She felt it did not give a good impression of the Council and this was the first impression the people would have of the Council. The DCS agreed that the first point of contact was important but no formal training was given. Staff were expected to behave to a professional and respectful standard. There was training on treating people respectfully for social workers which was paramount.
The Church of England Representative (CER), Lynda Pritchard, thought the ADR was a good idea but was interested to know on the wording of the last sentence in the paragraph regarding ADR on page 26 of the agenda. She sought clarification on what meeting with complainants ‘where possible’ meant and whether it was the complainant or the Council that determined ‘if escalation was appropriate’ for the complaint. The Complaints Team would meet with complainants if possible as it was easier to talk face to face than in writing, but some complainants preferred to email instead. The SCCM would look at how the complaint could be resolved and whether the stage one process had answered all the issues of the complaint. The service departments would also advise complainants that they could go to the ombudsman if they felt their complaint had not been dealt with satisfactorily.
Before all Members agreed on the report’s recommendations, Councillor Redsell pointed out that it was fine to note the report but she would like a follow up on certain issues that had been brought up such as staff training. It was agreed a follow up would be provided.
1) That the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee consider and note the report.