In my opinion, one of the most important roles councillors have is to challenge officers to improve service delivery and to champion good customer service.
So I was very pleased that better services for residents is right at the heart of the Coalition Agreement the Liberal Democrats and Conservative Groups running Reading Borough Council signed last May.
Over the years I have focussed on the need to improve the service tenants receive in relation to housing repairs, social care assessments and when generally reporting issues, so I was really pleased to see the most recent data showing improvements in these areas
A report due to be discussed at a meeting of the CCEA Scrutiny Panel next week Council performance is on the agenda finds:
"Highways, Street care and Housing Repairs have all recorded improvements over the year to date. Greater feedback and assistance from the customer service call centre is likely to have been a considerable factor in this improvement. There are likely to be further opportunities to improve the avoidable contact performance in these areas and both service areas and customer service centres are expected to continue to identify opportunities"Award-Winning Call Centre
One of the key findings is the positive impact the highly-professional service provided by the Council's award-winning in-house Call Centre is having on customer service across the Council:
"The Call Centre handled15,439 with service level 93.6%, 0.5% abandoned and average speed of answering 9 seconds in Qtr 3.The Customer trackbacks for Qtr 3 shows that 48% rate the Call Centre as Excellent,47% as good, 3% fair and 2% as fair."An increasing number of Housing and Community Care calls from the public are being routed through to the Council's Call Centre. This has had the effect of giving residents a more professional service and freeing social care staff up to concentrate on other areas - improving the service that residents receive.
I have been to visit the Call Centre twice and every time I go I have been really impressed by the work done by Council staff who work there.
Housing Repairs Service
Having been The Lib Dem housing spokesperson since 2006 I am well aware that at times the Council's repairs service has at times left something to be desired when it comes to customer service. I have continually challenged officers in recent years to do more to improve the service, and the latest statistics show how far the Council has come.
According to the latest data, on the Council's Housing Repairs Service specifically:
"Performance in 2009/10 resulted in 96.34% of all'right to repair' jobs being completed within the set timescales. There have been issues with the data following the implementation of a new ICT System in April 2010 where RTR jobs were miscoded. This means that the data needs to be viewed with caution.Decent Homes
At the end of June 2010 performance was at 83.07% and at the end of December performance had improved to 84.95%. Notwithstanding IT problems, samples of performance against national targets indicate that the service continues to perform at the 95/96% level and there has been no increase in tenant or member led complaints about timeliness of service."
Our Decent Homes programme currently on 'green' with over 99% of Council properties having been brought up to Decent Homes standard. This is good news for Council Tenants.
However, I am acutely aware that the majority of non-decent properties in Reading are in the private rented sector - hence the need to focus on tackling the worst properties and encouraging good landlords via our new Landlord Accreditation Scheme.
Reducing Avoidable Contact
One of the big programmes of work the Council is undertaking to improve customer service is to reduce avoidable calls. This means doing our best to respond to residents first time and reducing the need for people to make repeat calls to the Council for problems to be sorted out.
The report to Scrutiny next week confirms the huge strides that the Council is making in this area, particularly in relation to Housing Services:
"Qtr 3 sampling showed that the overall level of Avoidable Contact for the Housing Service has reduced from 46% in the July sample to 33% in the December 2010 sampling exercise. This shows a significant improvement and an overall service wide reduction in Avoidable Contact of 13%.
Housing is now achieving the target set earlier this year of 35% overall. Qtr 3 sampling still showed wide variations between teams for volume of calls received and AC rates. There were also changes to individual team performance. The overall volume of calls across the two sample periods remained similar from 4184 in July to 4037 in December (slight reduction of 3.5%)
I am really pleased to see that the most significant improvements (reductions in avoidable contact) have been in Housing Options, ASB, Rents and Repairs teams. These teams are providing really important frontline services to Council tenants and residents.
Increases in avoidable contact have occurred in Revenues, Income Recovery & Property & Support teams. I will be speaking to officers about what can be done to tackle this.
Community Care Services
In Community Care, the Council continues to improve the service it delivers some of the most vulnerable people in Reading. The latest official data shows the Council is currently on track to achieve around 28% of clients receiving self-directed support (or personal budgets) by the end of March 2011. As at Q3 we have over 300 more clients receiving self directed support than we did at the same time in 2009/10.
The Government has set a target of 30% of service users and carers to be receiving self directed support from councils by 2011. We are also seeing improvements in the speed of social care assessments and the delivery of social care assessments - both really important indicators of service quality.
In the last quarter 92.5% of assessments were completed within 4 weeks and 85.7% of services were delivered in 28 days following assessment.
I have written to officers to thank them for the hard work they and their teams have put in to deliver these service improvements to residents in Reading.
However, I am not complacent - where service has dipped or stalled I have written asking for updates about what plans are in place to improve services.
If you are a resident or Council tenant living in Reading and you have a comment to make about Housing or Community Care services - positive or negative please do contact me so we can continue to improve the services the Council provides.