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Letter: Hopefully A New Lead Councillor Will Bring Service Improvements

Published on: 19 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 19 Dec, 2021

From: George Potter

Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

In response to: Even Councillors Can’t Get Through to GBC

Unfortunately, Mr Elliott is quite correct about the difficulty in contacting GBC via customer services.

In the case of the Clay Lane site, I was able to email specific council officers directly from my council email address which resulted in a quick response (with a planning enforcement case being opened on Monday following my email being sent on Sunday (December 12), but my attempts to contact the council via the channels which members of the public are expected to use were pretty abysmal.

The mobile home on Clay Lane that triggered questions about GBC’s public enquiry response service.

Emailing the council’s Joint Enforcement Team to report a suspected unauthorised encampment resulted in an auto-reply saying that the inbox was no longer monitored and that members of the public should use the team’s webform instead (the webform had no way to report an unauthorised encampment).

Phoning the council directly resulted in spending over half an hour on hold as the very helpful call handler attempted, unsuccessfully, to find someone to pass my call onto. In the end, I got an email back from the customer service team which said simply:

“Our Compliance Team have looked into your query about the activities at Clay Lane and have confirmed it is authorised work being done by the landowner and the Guildford Borough Council Planning Enforcement Team are also monitoring the work being done. If there are any further queries please feel free to contact us.”

Thankfully the actual planning enforcement team are taking a far more robust approach than that email implies, having already issued a temporary stop notice for the site, but the fact remains that contacting the council is incredibly difficult for any normal member of the public.

I have had residents complain to me that they have spent ages on hold on the phone trying to contact someone, that emails or reports made via the council website take weeks for a response, and that going down to the council offices results in over half an hour on hold on the telephone by the door with no sign of anyone being prepared to open the door and allow people into the reception area.

The Future Guildford efficiency programme, launched by the last administration and completed by this one, was predicated on the basis that merging all points of contact into a single customer service system would result in quicker, more effective responses whilst requiring fewer members of staff. Instead, residents have been experiencing long wait times on the phone for months and the webforms they are directed to use instead often seem to result in queries vanishing without any response.

Backbenchers have been raising concerns in this area for months now, and we keep on being reassured that the situation will improve soon, especially if more residents create MyGuildford accounts so they can use self-service tools.

Whether these promised improvements will materialise remains to be seen, but it is undoubtedly the case that many residents are rightly fed up with the difficulties and delays encountered when contacting the council.

However, Cllr John Redpath has just taken over the portfolio responsibility for Customer Services so hopefully, he will be ensuring significant improvements are made to this area in the new year.

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Responses to Letter: Hopefully A New Lead Councillor Will Bring Service Improvements

  1. Martin Elliott Reply

    December 19, 2021 at 4:44 pm

    Cllr George Potter’s persistence is admirable in the detail of this case. As reported though, for many residents and helpers, with less direct GBC access, this is normal.

    Has he actually asked Cllr John Redpath when significant improvements will be made? Will there be a programme for improvements and a finish date?

    Actually “improvements” aren’t really necessary, just monitored compliance with the Customer Care Policy.

    After all, the Staff Information Booklet is clear

    “7. Customer care
    Responding quickly and efficiently to communications from customers shows that we are an efficient and professional organisation that responds to our customers when they communicate with us face to face or by letter, phone, fax or e-mail.

    “The Customer Care Policy can be found on the Loop.”

    Despite using computer search engines for over 40 years, I can’t easily find documents on GBC’s website. So I have to link PDF GBC Customer Care documents from 2013. I’m sure these have been reviewed and revised, but I hope they represent a minimum expected by residents and Cllr Redpath as lead councillor.

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