21 February 2012

Standard & poor

A shovel is employed behind this animal before every council meeting

Last night was a meeting of the Cabinet, the inner cabal which basically wields all of the power within the council (or gives it to officers to wield). There is an uncomfortable 30 minutes at the start of the meeting where residents get the chance to ask questions and the cabinet take the chance to largely avoid them. If they do answer them they often get jeered as the video on Roger's Barnet Eye website shows.

The trick, which Mr Mustard is going to keep working on, is to work out your second question, as you are allowed a supplementary, before you submit the first one. You have to confine your questions to the business within the paperwork produced for the meeting. Mr Mustard's first submitted question was ruled out of order. Here it is.

1 Given that the tax treatment of Ed Lester, the boss of the Student Loans Company is now that of a PAYE employee are there any plans to review the tax status of employees at Barnet Council who hold staff positions such as Chief Finance Officer and Head of Human Resources ( to name but two example staff positions )and put them on a proper tax basis i.e. PAYE, or has that already happened?

As Uncle Eric  Pickles entered into the fray just after that question and squashed the idea of Town Hall tax dodging Mr Mustard decided not to resubmit the question with some amendment which would have made it fit the bill as instead Mr Mustard is keeping an eye on the tax affairs of officers.

The first question on the agenda was Mr Mustard's:

Question 1
Could you please tell me what the "people and culture workstream of the One Barnet programme" actually means? (see paragraph 4.6 on page 8 of Business Planning ) 
This is a monthly meeting to engage with the Trade Unions in relation to the One Barnet Programme which generates actions and solutions. The purpose of the meeting is to; discuss employee engagement, managing change and what actions/solutions are required, receive an update on all the One Barnet Projects, and a forum for the Trade Unions to seek clarification and ask questions.

If a decision is made to move jobs to Croydon the union can complain all it likes but the jobs are still going there. Thus Mr Mustard did not ask a supplementary to that question.

There were lots of questions on the agenda and other residents were doing a good job of spearing Robert Rams about the Friern Barnet library so Mr Mustard was happy to keep out of the way and not ask a supplementary. So his next question was simply left on the record. Here it is.

27. Does the budget assumption in relation to pay increases also apply to payments for personnel provided to the Council under “contracts for services” in the same way as it will apply for those directly employed by the Council”?
The budget assumption in relation to potential pay increases is a contingency as discussions, at a national level, in relation to pay for lower paid staff are still ongoing. Personnel provided to the Council under ‘contracts for services’ are not covered by the national pay bargaining framework.

We don't want residents to tie our hands about how we pay staff and we will try to give some of them pay rises to make up for the loss of tax saving that they are now going to suffer. (Mr Mustard will be doing a salary to fees comparison later)

By the time the question rota came around again for the third time Mr Mustard did have a supplementary.

Question 28
The Leader's foreword has a target ( success measure no. 7 ) for answering the telephone of 75% of calls answered within 20 seconds. Is this target not ridiculously & pathetically low for either the council and/or a supposedly expert future outsourcing provider to achieve and shouldn't the target be above 90%?

The figure of 75% of calls in 20 seconds is a reasonably accepted standard for call answering – as it relates to about 5 rings of the phone. By way of comparison, 80% within 20 seconds is the industry standard for contact centres across the whole industry (not specifically within local government) and this is the level we will specify for the our NSCSO provider to deliver.
90% is a level that is generally set for emergency services, and is not the norm for customer service call centres, as it requires a level of ' slack' within the environment to assure the increased level of service, and is therefore not the most economic approach.
Another reason it is not normally set higher is that, for each service, there will be a daily and weekly pattern of calls from the public. For example – Monday morning is busiest – with call volumes dropping off later in day and later in the week. There will also be peaks of call in response to specific events (e.g. school admissions, council tax bills). So while a well run call centre would exceed this target for much of the week – it is generally not economic to resource to a level where it can be achieved all the time. Therefore the 75% is an average to be achieved over the course of the week. Private sector contact centres will often deploy more flexible staffing arrangements to better match staff numbers to actual demand.
However, feedback on this matter tells us that what really matters to customers is less the waiting time, but the extent to which their problem is solved.
If you increase the percentage target for call answering, you run the risk of providing the wrong incentives – e.g. the call centre operator tries to close the call as quickly as possible – rather than fully address the customer issue – or the over-use of automated systems (e.g. press 1 for …) to meet the target. Both of which we know customers don’t like.

It is ultimately a balance between service quality and affordability.

For the outsourced provider we will monitor a basket of indicators (of which this measure is only one) so that we can have a good handle on our customers' overall experience. E.g. how many calls don’t get answered at all, the length of the longest wait, and % of calls where the issue is resolved at the first point of contact.

Mr Mustard read that load of flannel and then asked his supplementary question expecting the answer to be some official body or quango or association of call centre operators.

Whose standard is the "Reasonably accepted standard" 
It is hard when you are sitting there to take it all in but the leader waffled on again about something and didn't answer the actual question so Mr Mustard simply repeated it again. The answer was shocking. The reasonably accepted standard was that of the leader and the cabinet.

So it isn't an industry standard. 

It is a standard that the complacent leader has decided is good enough for the residents of Barnet. It isn't.

Mr Mustard thinks that rather than getting a Standard & Poors type rating of AAA or similar you qualify for the Private Eye rating of PP


Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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