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To approve as a correct record the minutes of the meeting held on 21 April 2015 and to authorise the Chairman to sign them.
The Minutes of the Meeting held on 21 April 2015 were accepted and signed by the Chairman.
UPDATE ON MP & MEMBER ENQUIRIES - Q1 2015-16 by the Head of Business & Performance
An oral update and presentation on the last quarter’s MP and Member enquiries
The Committee received an oral update and presentation concerning MP & Member Enquiries. The main theme of this update was to inform the Committee that these were now being more carefully scrutinised and distinctions made between a simple “enquiry” and a complaint on behalf of a resident. As a direct consequence, the MP/Member Enquiry totals were reducing and the complaints totals increasing.
Members expressed satisfaction that this was being undertaken but also asked for some modifications to the information which the system produced to be put in hand, for example: whether the matter was a complaint or an enquiry, the system sent only one message “thank you for your complaint”. The Committee was assured that this would be looked at and, if possible, changes made to reflect the distinction.
UPDATE ON CORPORATE COMPLAINTS - Q1 2015-16 Overview by the Executive Manager of the Chief Executive's Office
An oral update and presentation on the last quarter’s Corporate Complaints process
The Committee was provided with a wide range of data covering the first three month’s activity under the new complaints procedure. In addition to this, Members were informed that during those first three months, the Chief Executive’s Office – and Services across the Council – had been on a very steep learning curve during which valuable lessons had been learned and more robust ways of dealing with complaints were being developed.
In answer to questions from Members, The CE’s Executive Manager described how a recent audit of the complaints process had revealed that there remained a number of areas – particularly in the quality of the complaint handling – where on-going improvements were indicated. This was illustrated by reference to examples drawn from StreetCare and Housing and contrasted with the high score achieved by Regulatory Services, though it was also explained that the former two services were high volume whilst the latter provided fewer complaints, but of a much more detailed and technical nature.
Members were asked to be patient with the process whilst it continued to bed in. It was explained that there were a number of areas which the audit had shown required additional training and that in most cases the root problem related to a pre-existing culture which was slowly being changed. Part of that culture had been the service-based dialogue with complainants which tended to lead to complaints being protracted and becoming unnecessarily complicated. This was further compounded because in the previous system the Service retained control of the complaint through Stage Two. Since 1 April, the CE’s Office had taken this stage and it continued to be its task to train the front-line complaints handlers to deal with issues on a first and only time basis, minimising the amount of scope there was for a complaint to accrue additional elements which only served to confuse the central issue.
Members learned that of the numerous cases dealt with at Stage One, most were successfully concluded at that point. Of those which were referred to Stage Two, a significant proportion were refused because of various procedural failures and of those considered by the CE’s Office and responded to by the Chief Executive, only one had been escalated to Stage Three (and that had not been upheld by Members).
In conclusion Members were asked to bear with the changes which still needed to be applied. Audits would be a continuous feature for the time-being as standards were driven up. Lessons were being learned and it was appreciated that a valuable part of the process was the feed-back and recommendations which came from Members when they deliberated on issues referred to them.
The Committee thanked the CE’s Executive Manager for her lucid and informative presentation and looked forward to receiving an update of developments at its next meeting.
A report containing the LGO’s Letter and a review of the LGO’s data.
The report before the Committee considered the Local Government Ombudsman’s Annual Letter which had been received by the Council in July and contained information of complaints dealt with in the year 2014-15. Members were reminded that the Annual Letter was the LGO’s principle means of communicating a summary of its activity to every authority across England and provided a break-down of complaints referred to her throughout the year.
The Committee was reminded that the Ombudsman’s figures did not provide an accurate picture of the activity she had engaged in with the borough. Members’ attention was drawn to the number of references: “Referred back for local resolution” and it was explained that this was a grey area because the term could be used to indicate that a complaint was sent back to the Council to be considered under its complaints procedures or that a complainant had been advised to take the matter back to the Council. In the latter case, there was no way in which the Council could know whether a complainant had approached the Ombudsman unless that complainant chose to inform the Council and provide the reference number. As this was unlikely, this category (the largest of the outcome groups) remained the most difficult to address.
The report showed that a partial reconciliation had been undertaken and that this had revealed that the number of complaints notified to the Council did fall within the range recorded by the Ombudsman – though it was pointed-out by the clerk that although the numbers agreed, the LGO and the Council differed in certain cases of allocation. The prime example being the issue of Blue Badges; The LGO recorded them under Adult Services, whilst the Council placed this within Customer Services which reported to a completely different Head of Service and Director. The Committee accepted the findings however, agreeing that it did not matter what label was used, as long as the number and the outcome agreed, it was satisfied.
1. Noted the contents of the Ombudsman’s Annual Letter.
2. Decided to send the Letter should be sent to the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Board and its comments sought.
3. Decided not to send a letter of response to the Local Government Ombudsman about this year’s Annual Letter.
4. Decided that the summary statistics provided by the LGO should be published on Calendar Brief along with an in-house commentary.
5. Agreed to change the best value performance indicator (BVPI) currently in use to read:
“The BVPI target for any formal reports of maladministration and injury is 0 and no more than 8 instances where the Ombudsman imposes financial penalties”
An oral update on the information already sent to Members
This oral update was restricted to the Local Government Ombudsman’s activity for the current year to date. Members were reminded that they had recently been provided with the statistics for the previous three months and their attention was drawn to some comparative year-on-year figures which indicated that the LGO’s involvement with the borough had fluctuated significantly. The cumulative total for the first five months of 2012-13 was 36, For 2013-14 over the same period, the figure was 20 and for the current year, between 1 April and the date of the meeting, the figure was 27. These figures were also lower than previous years and it seemed to indicate that the Ombudsman’s ability to deal with a large volume of complaints had been curtailed somewhat.
This observation was further borne out by reference to the number of cases which were returned to the Council as not investigated. The LGO appeared to be keeping overall numbers high concerning through-put, but appeared to be very selective in what she committed to investigation.
Members were informed that the figures agreed favourably with those across the Capital and that Havering was in the top quartile for the least number of complaints registered against it during the year (the lowest number of complaints being recorded against the City of London (12) and the highest against Newham (298). Unfortunately, this was not repeated by comparison across the country as the average number of complaints was in the mid to low double figures and whilst Birmingham had 578 complaints recorded against it, this was the exception and Havering’s 97 placed it in the bottom quartile (306th out of 363 authorities). It was noted that the “authorities” within the LGO’s jurisdiction included the National Parks which attracted very little Ombudsman activity and many small, rural or coastal areas were likewise unlikely to receive many complaints to the Ombudsman.
In conclusion, the Committee was reminded that every case was an opportunity for the Council to better understand how to ensure that the services it provided were appropriate and fit for purpose.
The Committee noted the oral update.
UPDATE ON STAGE THREE ACTIVITY
If available, a report will be tabled for Members to note
The clerk informed the Committee that he had not been able to provide a formal report, but drew Members’ attention to the information provided earlier by the CE’s Executive Manager. Members were reminded that since 1st April there had been four MRPs which together had considered seven complaints and of those, one was upheld, two had been partially upheld and four had not been upheld. Members were also reminded that there were three more complaints (from the previous complaints procedure) which were due to be considered within the next few days.
Members were then informed that with the start of the new complaints process, a decision had been taken to produce minutes for MRPs as well as Hearings. The reasoning for this had been to raise the level of transparency of the complaints process and to properly close the formal administration of the Stage Three element.
A Member raised his concerns about this arguing that it could curtail the free discussion which took place during the deliberation Members conducted before coming to a decision. He – and the rest of the Committee - was reassured when it was explained that the Minute was largely formulaic in that it provided the information which would be in the public domain anyway. It gave the name of the Service area which was the subject of the complaint and a brief outline of the salient issues – but not in such detail that the complainant could be identified.
The Minute referred to any significant points and gave the Panel’s decision as well as any recommendations. What was not included were any details which were still recorded on the Decision Notice and this document was used to inform the complainant, the Head of Service and the CE’s Office. Members were reminded that Minutes were always produced when a complaint went to a Hearing and this had always been the case; it was simply that when the MRP had been initially set up, its purpose had been very different to the way it functioned now.
Having been reassured that the anonymity of the complainant was being maintained and that details of the private deliberations were not going to be revealed, the Committee considered that this was a helpful development and would strengthen the Council’s position with regard to its management of complaints.
Noted the oral update and
Approved the continued use of a formal Minute to publically conclude the complaints process.