Agenda item

Limited Assurance Report - Members & MP Enquiries, Freedom of Information, Subject Access Requests and Complaints


Karen Sullivan (Assistant Director of Residents' Services), Mark Grimley (Director for Corporate Services), and Jane Sheehan (Resident Experience Manager) presented the report.


David Hughes noted that there had been a positive response to the audit and a clear action plan had been put in place. It had also been actively tracked and managed by the senior leadership team.


Karen Sullivan informed the Committee that in the 6 months since the audit all of the medium and high recommendations had been implemented. There was new management delivering the service now and performance had improved substantially. The Council's senior leadership team had also commissioned a wider piece of work looking at the overall operating model. There were pockets of best practice with regards to complaints in Social Care and Children's Services. The service was creating a 'residents commitment' that would be launching soon.


The Chair noted that a large proportion of enquiries from Councillors and MPs were related to housing and, given that the Council was changing the repairs service soon, how were these complaints going to be managed going forward? He had concerns about the complications created by the move - i.e. cases could be lost in the transition. Karen Sullivan said the complaints team had been deeply involved in this project - they had fed into training for H&F Maintenance staff, so they were clear on the processes and there was a dedicated team for complaints and service improvement.


The Chair asked if officers had done an analysis of which departments had the most overdue complaints. Karen Sullivan noted the last graph in the report showed some of this information - there had been a large increase from Housing which coincided with Mitie (the current housing repairs provider) informing the Council of a resource gap. Adult Social Care and Children's Services also had complaints that could be very complex and take time to respond to and resolve. There was a backlog of subject access requests and this included a number of Children's Services requests. Due to the nature of Children's Services work these requests could cover a child's lifetime and involve a wide range of different contacts and services.


Councillor Jonathan Caleb-Landy noted that he had seen an improvement in response times in recent months and wanted to thank officers for that. He then went on to say that every resident waiting for a response was extremely important. He asked what the target was for responses and what good looked like in this area.


Karen Sullivan said the target for a member enquiry was a response within 3 working days. Previously this had been achieved 61 percent of the time but in recent months it had improved to 73 percent. The aim was to get this to 95 percent, but it would take time to achieve that.


Councillor Asif Siddique asked how enquiries were prioritised if they were very urgent. He also asked that officers ensured that responses had the same subject line as the request, so members could easily match responses. Karen Sullivan said officers would prioritise urgent enquiries. Kim Smith added that there were emergency duty numbers available for urgent issues and asked that they were recirculated to members. Karen Sullivan informed members that she would be writing a brief to all departments to ensure responses were consistent and included the correct subject line etc.


Councillor Jonathan Caleb-Landy asked how the statistics in the report were used. For example, were they used to show which services were under pressure and needed additional support? Karen Sullivan said officers had recently circulated the members enquiries report, including trends and statistics to highlight issues for services. The Council was increasing its use of business intelligence to use data to help services iterate and continually improve. Directors now also got copies of all stage 2 responses to sign off which should flag recurring issues for them.


Councillor Asif Siddique said it would be helpful for the members portal to have threads of requests and responses. The current system separated responses and items were archived early making them hard to find. Karen Sullivan said officers recognised the current system, iCasework, had limited functionality so they were working with members on user stories to ensure members have what they need. The Council was currently implementing a new online system that included a case management system that would be better for residents and members.


Councillor Matt Thorley noted that a number of members enquires were residents asking for information on what was going on in the local area. He asked if officers had assessed what type of enquiries were coming in to see if there were better ways to promote the things people were asking about. Karen Sullivan admitted that the approach thus far had been more reactive, and officers hadn't done that analysis yet. They had started to do this for Freedom of Information requests though. Karen said she would take that away as an action and feedback to members.


Kim Smith addressed the Committee and said Jane Sheehan and Karen Sullivan should be commended for their excellent work improving the complaints service and response times. They inherited a significant backlog that took a major effort to turn that around.

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