Declarations of interest: None.
Jason Russell, Assistant Director for Highways
Mike Dawson, Customer Service and Improvement Manager
Nick Hindes, Performance and Service Development Manager
Key points raised during the discussion:
1. Surrey Highways receive a high volume of enquiries in comparison to the rest of the council, at around 8000 per month, with officers dealing with 92% of these enquiries within 20 days. Of the 33 complaints referred to the Ombudsmen none had been upheld and this was felt to be due to the robust processes adopted by the department. There had been an increase in the number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests; however this was thought to be largely due to insurance claims against the council.
2. The Highways Service was in the process of working towards the Customer Service Excellence award, which they believe they are on track to achieve, but would appreciate Member input into the process.
3. Though officers were aware improvements were needed within the Service, they felt some new processes were making a difference; including the introduction of social media to update residents of work taking place.
4. Surrey subscribed to the National Highways and Transport Survey (NHT). The survey takes place annually in June, and achieved a response rate of around 20% from around 4,500 questionnaires. A comparison to Hertfordshire was provided to Members as it was considered this was the local authority which compared best with Surrey. Surrey also undertook a residents’ survey quarterly which showed satisfaction with road maintenance was cyclical and likely to be influenced by the prevalence of potholes.
5. Members felt that the information provided told a different story to the reality as many residents were unsatisfied with the customer services they received, in particular regarding contact. Officers stated that a high level of contact was received, and although a high percentage was responded to, this was an area where more work needed to be done.
6. The Committee were concerned that Surrey fell in the bottom six for 14 out of the 22 categories included in the NHT Survey and suggested that this was an area officers needed to look at and consider strategies to improve satisfaction rates. Officers stated that it was a slow process to influence satisfaction levels and it was difficult to understand what caused residents to be dissatisfied as this was not specifically asked as part of the survey, however they were working hard to improve the service. Additionally the Assistant Director informed the Committee that they were working with the South East Seven to better understand the information generated by the survey.
7. Members congratulated officers on the positive relationships they had with their Local Highways Teams. However, it was noted that complaints and freedom of information (FOI) requests were showing an increasing trend. Officers responded that the former was a result of an improved recording process and a drive to use complaints to improve the service while the latter was due to the media encouraging members of the public to submit requests prior to making insurance claims.
8. Members queried whether there was a central contact who ensured residents received a response, they were informed that enquiries were responded either automatically, via the website or by offices, and that they often depended on the manner in which the enquiry was generated, through email or phone call, however the Customer Service & Improvement Team were responsible for ensuring responses were sent.
9. Members suggested that an officer independent from the process be requested to be a mystery shopper who reported faults and complaints and analysed how many responses were received.
10. The Committee queried why some complaints were listed twice within the table on Annex 2 and were informed that this was an unfortunate mistake. Furthermore, Members suggested that FOI information should concentrate on the figures for Environment & Infrastructure directorate only and felt it would be beneficial to see the trends for the last three years as a comparison.
11. Members suggested that a way forward would be to work on cleaning road signs and cutting verges as a tidy appearance often achieved good resident feedback. The Assistant Director stated that officers were looking at ways to improve satisfaction through housekeeping and projects such as Operation Horizon, though the results would not be seen in surveys for a while. However, Members informed officers that they were starting to receive thank you messages from residents regarding Operation Horizon so satisfaction levels may begin to rise.
1. That the Committee supports the Customer Service Excellence project.
2. That a Member Reference Group be set up to provide Member input into the Customer Service Excellence project.
3. That officers consider setting up a ‘mystery shopping’ exercise to look into the rate of responses to enquiries and complaints.
Actions/further information required:
The Committee to be provided with directorate trends for FOI requests in the last three years within Environment & Infrastructure.
Committee next steps: None.
Councillor Peter Hickman joined the meeting.