19 August 2011

Don't call me - I'll call you

and preferably please use another channel like the internet as despite raking in £900m a year we can't afford to provide a service is more or less what Barnet Council say.

Now Mr Mustard read the 84 page report called the New Support & Customer Services Project: Business Case. See item 7 here. For a veggie Mr Mustard sees rather a lot of tripe. One of the big One Barnet ideas is to contract out the answering of the telephone (because it is too difficult for Barnet council to manage?)

What caught Mr Mustard's eye, well both of them to be accurate, on page 48,  was the number of phone calls in a year to customer services, being: 2,574,070

Mr Mustard wondered how 300,000 or so residents could be making 8 calls each a year to the council ? Complaint calls about Cllr Coleman maybe? oh no, the number is too low! ( only joking Mr Coleman Sir, before you threaten Mr Mustard with the police again ). So Mr Mustard asked for a breakdown and here it is although the year ran to October 2010 so it was hopelessly out of date.

Service area Total calls Per day
Switchboard 529,509 2,037
Barnet Homes Call Centre 292,734 1,126
Parking 205,293 790
Council tax 201,159 774
Street scene 181,679 699
Schools Admissions 135,633 522
Benefit 134,344 517
Libraries 119,938 461
Housing Advice 103,198 397
Assisted Travel 99,649 383
Building Control and street numbering 68,490 263
Social Care Direct 49,630 191
Highways (Manager, Strategy and Admin) 44,235 170
Registration 44,110 170
Out of hours 41,133 158
Passenger Transport Management & Support 36,337 140
Planning 31,606 122
Customer services- planning/reception 28,686 110
Business Support: provides first customer contact for:
Food safety
Health and safety
Private sector housing
Care and Repair
Scientific services
Public health and nuisance
Pest control
27,929 107
Student Finance 22,640 87
Greenspaces 20,640 79
Children's Social Care Duty Team 18,985 73
Hendon Crematorium 17,790 68
Non-domestic National Rates 16,038 62
FYI (information and service request) 13,806 53
Waste & Sustainability 11,254 43
EH Admin Team 11,112 43
Educational Welfare 10,090 39
Priority Intervention Team (Including Abandoned vehicles) 9,229 35
Electoral Registration 8,746 34
Connexions Service 6,222 24
Safer Communities Team 4,949 19
Children’s social services 4,795 18
Design & Development 4,646 18
Crossovers 3,445 13
Regeneration 2,714 10
Youth and connexions 2,665 10
Trading standards 1,785 7
School Travel Plan 1,447 6
Development Control 1,382 5
Canada Villa Youth Centre 1,236 5
Fostering 764 3
Planning 604 2
Drugs and Alcohol Team 594 2
Adoption 492 2
BH Unitry Development Planning 445 2
Common Assessment Framework team 263 1
Totals 2,574,070 9,900

Contract out the switchboard. Stupid idea number one. 2000 calls a day = economy of scale. Much better to have chatterbox Ethel on the switchboard who knows everything and everybody as she can correctly route 99.9% of calls within 3 secs.

Barnet Homes : Shouldn't they take their own calls? What is the point of routing those calls through Barnet Council? As most of the calls will probably relate to maintenance it might make sense to make the numbers of the maintenance contractors public instead?

Wherever possible the aim should be to connect the customer to the person who can deal with their problem with no intervening steps. Mr Mustard has sadly had to suffer a game of pass the parcel for an enquiry which could have been answered in 30 seconds and developed into a long game of email ping-pong which is as yet unfinished and which will end up with his 3 opponents ( yes a bit unfair Mr Mustard v only 3 Barnet council employees, they needed reinforcements ) being smashed off the table in a blog shortly.

Parking. Those calls should be taken by the Information Officers ( please give these people new titles Barnet Council as they aren't information officers, are they, they handle appeals against parking tickets? ). Has it occurred to you Barnet Council that if the Information Officers spoke to customers directly they might be able to deal with appeals on the fly and cancel some tickets or be able to explain to the customer exactly why parking in the wrong place led to a ticket and educate customers to avoid further trouble and cut down the workload? Education should be the goal of the parking "service" not money grabbing.

Council tax and benefits is a complex area and the outcome is crucial to the council's income. Best to keep that core activity close to the council.

Street scene : Mr Mustard thinks that these calls include you didn't collect my dustbin / recycling box. Mr Mustard forgot to put his paper and bottles bins out this week. The May Gurney man walked a whole 10m to collect them. Well done. So complaining does work. These calls should go directly to May Gurney for recycling and to the dustman ( yes Mr Mustard knows that name is out of date ) for rubbish bins.

School admissions. These calls are for a concentrated period once a year. Mr Mustard doesn't know much about schools but would think that this could be largely dealt with on-line and wonders if, with the rise of academies, this sort of call will fall away? Either way, the call is too important to be dealt with in a call centre.

Benefits. See Council Tax above.

Libraries. How can there be 119,938 calls to libraries? If each library took their own calls the number would be manageable.

Housing advice: Let Barnet Homes manage their own calls. At least they have an 0800 number.

Assisted travel: Why so many calls about this when Barnet council refer you elsewhere?

Building control : really needs to be managed locally or anything will be built.

Registration : Calls about births, deaths and marriages should be dealt with by the source directly. They are too important, and emotional, to deal with a call centre.

Planning : Let the relevant planning officer deal with planning queries. Who knows more about planning than him/her?

Hendon Crematorium : Press 1 if you are alive! For goodness sake let people call the crematorium directly; isn't the stress of burying a loved one enough?

Electoral registration : Mr Mustard suspects that only the proper officer can amend our details so why bother with a middleman in a call centre. 

Crossovers : Mr Mustard is shocked by the number of calls about these. Since Barnet Council removed the requirement for the depth of pavement to be at least the length of an average family car a large number of front gardens have been concreted over thereby desecrating the green and leafy borough. A resident of his own street converted the front garden to accept a smart car but she has a huge 4by4!

Once we reach the realm of 10 or fewer calls a day Mr Mustard cannot see why the relevant staff cannot simply take the calls as part of their normal duties.

When to call?

Nov-09 201,252
Dec-09 180,251
Jan-10 210,457
Feb-10 198,957
Mar-10 250,024
Apr-10 211,087
May-10 216,115
Jun-10 224,623
Jul-10 211,976
Aug-10 181,791
Sep-10 263,912
Oct-10 223,625

Please don't call in September; please call back in December or August when we are not so busy!

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. "only joking Mr Coleman Sir, before you threaten Mr Mustard with the police again."

    What happened last time, Mr Mustard?

  2. I thought someone might ask. The details will eventually become a blog post when I have finished dealing with the Cllr concerned. He has gone awfully quiet now he has been challenged. If wrong I apologise, if correct I just keep on going until I get satisfaction.


I now moderate comments in the light of the Delfi case. Due to the current high incidence of spam I have had to turn word verification on.