Falkirk Council has '˜decent' record when it comes to dealing with complaints

Given the number of face to face meetings, phone calls and e-mails we deal with, journalists at The Falkirk Herald could be excused for thinking the public have plenty to moan about when it comes to rating how well Falkirk Council works.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 11th April 2016, 7:00 am
Staff in the Municipal Buildings work hard to resolve complaints
Staff in the Municipal Buildings work hard to resolve complaints

We hear about housing problems, bins not being emptied, grass growing too long, lifts in the tower blocks not working, pot holes and dodgy pavements.

But a report to members has revealed that when it comes to dealing with the complaints, the local town hall handles issues better than most.

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman sets the guidelines about how grievances should be tackled, and the latest stats show Falkirk is performing better than most.

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It has in place a Complaints Handling Procedure that seems to be working pretty well.

This two-stage process involves ‘frontline’ resolution and then ‘investigation’.

The former looks at issues considered straightforward and needing little or no investigation. This could mean an ‘on the spot’ apology, explanation or other steps being taken to resolve the complaint within five working days or less.

The latter involves more serious, complex or ‘high risk’ issues being considered in greater detail with an answer and explanation to the points raised provided within 20 working days.

As required by the benchmarks set by the SPSO, these are signed off by senior management of the council who have an active interest in complaints and use the information collected to make sure services are improved as a result.

The second stage is also the council’s final chance to address a complaint before it is reported to the SPSO.

If it has completed the established procedure and a customer is still not happy with the decision or the way the complaint has been dealt with, the customer can ask that the Ombudsman look at it.

At national level, Falkirk signed up to the Local Authority Complaints Handlers Network established in conjunction with the SPSO so that councils can share good practice and common queries.

A new recording system for complaints, specifically based on the new procedure and to ensure that information relating to the SPSO’s agreed indicators is collected, was introduced in 2014.

Falkirk Council’s performance against these indicators for 2014/15 shows it is closer to or better than the national average in some key areas.

The scrutiny committee was told that in 2014/15 of the 1788 complaints received 1567 were closed at the frontline resolution stage and the remaining 177 after investigation.

A total of 614 were upheld at stage one, 258 partially upheld and 695 not upheld. Of the 177 which moved to stage two, 34 were upheld, 57 partially upheld and 86 not upheld.

While the results can be looked on as positive with the council working hard to ‘listen’ and respond, steps will be taken to improve things.

It has already been agreed a scrutiny panel will be established to look closely at the operation of the council’s complaint system which will include customer feedback.

Recommendations from the SPSO will also be taken on board by all council services as standard practice.