Wednesday 16 November 2011

When is a complaint not a complaint?

Carmarthenshire County Council's Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee will be meeting today to consider a number of things, including the annual report on the council's Complaints and Compliments procedures.

The council defines a complaint as:

"An expression of dissatisfaction, however made, and irrespective of whether or not the Authority is responsible and whether or not justified."

That sounds reasonable, doesn't it? But just as the council's constitution sets out rights and then qualifies them away into meaninglessness, so too does the complaints procedure. Here is the crucial wording:

"Sometimes members of the public have specific rights of appeal or other remedies if they have grievances, and the corporate procedure is not appropriate in these circumstances. Complaints that fall outside of the corporate procedure include:
    Complaints where there is a right of appeal within the Council, or to an independent tribunal, or a legal remedy; Complaints about a Councillor; Complaints about Schools; Complaints about Social Services; Complaints by council staff about employment matters; Allegations of serious officer misconduct and criminal activity. Allegations of financial impropriety."
That covers quite a few things you may have a complaint about, ranging from late or deficient responses to Freedom of Information requests, the daft and intimidating new entry procedures for the public wishing to observe public meetings, the ceaseless flow of amendments to the council's constitution to remove basic democratic rights and freedoms; to name but a few.

The surprising thing is that any complaints are registered as complaints at all, but in the last year a total of 782 complaints did make it onto the list. They include matters such as faulty street lighting.

The report is proud to say that there has been a small drop in the number of complaints (2.5%); but it also notes that there has been a rather bigger drop in the number of compliments (8.3%).

It is also pleased to note that "resolution" of complaints is very high at between 86% and 100%, depending on the department. We are not told what "resolution" means, but it would seem that responses along the lines of "Dear Mrs Bloggs, after careful consideration we reject your complaint", would count as resolution.

The author of the report goes on to provide what they describe as an "analysis" of the complaints. The analysis takes the form of several very badly executed tables of numbers and percentages, basically showing the number of complaints by department.

There is no attempt to describe the complaints or categorise them by subject. All we know is that a number of complaints were received and "resolved", and so what we end up with is a typical local government box ticking exercise which concludes that (a) the council is doing a good job, and (b) the complaints procedure is working well.

Presumably, this means bonuses will now be payable, and everyone except the complainants will be happy.

No comments: