Some terribly important reports were taken to Executive last Tuesday. I was especially excited about items 11 & 14. The report considered under item 11 is an example of Green IT at its best. There are both environmental and cashable benefits. With regards to item 14, the foundations laid by my friend and colleague, Adrian Lee, continue to be built on by the recent addition, Becky Stewart.
Item 3 was in my name. I am concerned about the impression that it has given to some people and also the content of an article in the Chronicle last week. Every organisation needs to have a policy like this in place and I would be surprised if the amount of people categorised as vexatious complainants was ever more than half a dozen. The prospect of anyone believing that the Council would label someone as vexatious because they are making legitimate enquiries or complaints horrifies me. Not long after being first elected, there was a case that I took on and I was horrified at the way a constituent and I were treated. She was let down in a big way and the tactic of not answering questions and causing more frustration was deployed. I could see that the Council had a major problem with its Complaints Procedure (despite having pockets of brilliance) and I quickly identified this as the element of the Customer Service Umbrella that needed the most attention when I became Lead Member in 2006.
I quickly took a report on becoming Lead Member that reversed the decision of the previous Labour administration to increase the timescales for dealing with complaints. I also instigated other changes that reconfigured the Procedure to establish a Panel of Councillors to determine complaints at Stage 3. I believe that the changes have been revolutionary.
These changes were not welcomed at first. I first suggested them when in opposition but they were strongly opposed by the previous administration who made claims from predicting that it would be legally challenged to it would lead to a conflict of interest. Despite the success since, only one person has acknowledged that they were wrong to oppose the establishment of the Members Panel.
My friend and colleague, Phil Andrews, posted about this most recent report recently. I think I have been guilty in not giving enough thought to how the provisions in this report would be perceived by others. I did try and reassure people when presenting the report that it would genuinely only be used where fully justified. Asking legitimate questions will not be a reason for limiting the type of contact that a resident can have with the Council.
I am as passionate about the importance of complaints now, as I was when first elected. The Council, and how it deals with the thousands of complaints, is not perfect every time but I know that residents who will have the need to use the Council’s Complaints Procedure in the future now have a much better prospect of a better experience than they did a few years ago. I am confident that there is a pool of Members who deal with Complaints at Stage 3 that will accept departments having a different point of view to residents but they will not accept any example of questions not being answered or legitimate issues, where the Council has a role, addressed. I can honestly say that there has not yet been that case in all the panels I have been on that has angered me because of attempts to grind people down with no answers or answers to questions not asked. There has been a step changed in earlier resolution of complaints and that is what I wanted to achieve.
Here is some information about how complaints work at Hounslow. If you ever feel let down by the Council, I strongly urge you to complain.