The Advertiser article (Don’t leave us hanging on the telephone say Swindon Tenants, November 15th) was wrong in one respect. We are not “begging” the council to do anything. We are demanding that they carry out their expressed commitment in their Customer Access Strategy of “a fair and equal service” to all residents however they contact the council. They cannot carry out that commitment without putting more staff on the phones.
According to their own figures they only have a capacity to answer 19,000 calls a month. That’s 228,000 a year. Yet according to their own statistics, in the first 10 months of 2018 they have received 318,000 calls.
Insufficient staff numbers obviously mean that those trying to do the job are under more pressure than they should be. No wonder the council appear unable to keep their staff. That’s why there has been average of two thirds of posts being covered by agency staff, at greater expense.
The assertion that the digitisation programme is to improve the service to the customer only reminds us of the banks that have sought to force their customers on line by cutting the staff on the counter and then closing down branches. They sang the same song; we are doing it to improve the service!
In regard to housing repairs it’s crucial that the people answering the phones have some knowledge of this field. If the information they take down is inaccurate or not detailed enough this can result in council workers turning up at homes with the wrong kit to do the actual job that is required, or expecting a different fault to the one they find. This is a waste of resources and, of course, a great irritant to tenants who might have taken time off work to be at home. That’s why we believe that a dedicated team should be answering the phones for housing repairs.
What the council has introduced is an austerity digitisation process. It is financially driven to cut costs as central government funding falls sharply. As currently implemented it can only result in a worsening of the service provided. Test out on-line reporting by all means but the council has a duty to provide a decent service to those who don’t use it. We can change our bank but we can’t change our council. Remember “customer choice”?
Secretary, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group