Customer service pants

News is drifting in about how Bristol City Council has gone about CONsulting on their planned closure of most of their customer service points or area housing offices as we used to call them before the loonies took over.

Apparently the Council had planned to end the CONsultation on this on November 19 after a mere two ‘public’ meetings (actually invitation only at the Create Centre and Council House, which they weren’t planning to tell the general public about).

But now the story’s leaked to the Evening Cancer they’ve generously extended the CONsultation period … for a whole week!

When the point was raised by staff to managers that customers – or the general public as we call in them in unfashionable circles – might quite like to know what the plans are for their local customer service points, council managers appeared not to have thought of this beyond providing these secretive ‘invitation only’ meetings for carefully selected local tenant groups and organisations.

Indeed, glaring omissions from the list of invitees has raised alarm among frontline staff who believe that the plans are being deliberately rushed through and are not being properly discussed with all the concerned parties.

Now staff are being told that they can provide feedback forms to customers if they ask for them (ie. if they have seen the story in the Evening Cancer) but cannot actively promote them to the public, which seems to be contrary to the point of a proper CONsultation really.

This is some sort of progress though, because – before the leak to the Cancer – staff weren’t allowed to say anything specific about the plans at all, putting them in the odd position of being able to tell customers that a CONsultation was taking place but not what it was about.

The Blogger now learns that it is the overwhelming opinion of most of the frontline staff delivering the service that council management are pushing this CONsultation through as quickly as possible and avoiding telling as many people as possible so they can get on with closing the service as soon as possible.

Meanwhile the council’s homelessness workers are also up in arms.

During the spring The Hub – the council’s homelessness unit in St Paul’s that deals with all homeless applications for Bristol from people without dependents or children – decided that all their homeless “customers” must approach one of the nine Customer Service Points around the city for initial advice and a referral to the Hub – at least if they’re allowed to by the untrained, overworked, stressed-out Customer Service Point workers.

Then in May 2009 the city council shut its Customer Service Point in St Pauls and Easton because, apparently, “customers” won’t mind walking to Cabot Circus instead.

Now the latest idea from the city council is leaked to the Evening Cancer setting out plans to close all but one Customer Service Point accompanied by a vague plan to maybe build two more of these somewhere or other …

So what happens to any single homeless people then? Joined-up local government at its best isn’t it?

Meanwhile over in Hartcliffe a few eyebrows have been raised about the loss of their Customer Service Point in Symes Avenue.

Is this the same Symes Avenue that won the city council an Evening Cancer regeneration award (pdf) two years ago this very month? An award for turning around a boarded-up and shuttered old shopping centre wasn’t it?

So guess who’s the first to close the shutters for good at the new regenerated Symes Avenue? Er … The award-winning regenerators Bristol City Council!

And finally, fear not, because one of the city’s leading politicians has bravely arrived to explain this totally fucking embarrassing u-turning reverse ferret shambles of a cock-up to us.

Step forward the Liberal Democrat’s very own Tory evangelical looney who can’t speak English, “Biggles” Popham. He tells the Cancer, “If we can save money, we should but it’s not the motivating factor. It’s about transformation.”

Eh? It’s all about an abstract noun then? Or more accurately an abstract theoretical business school construct. That’s really gonna help the poor isn’t it?

This entry was posted in Bristol, Bristol Evening Post, Budget, CONsultants, Lib Dems, Local government, Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Customer service pants

  1. Any analysis of the Lib Dems approach to public services will see a movement of resources from poorer to richer areas with cuts being targetted on front line service staff. I wonder when they will start privatising social services like home care again?

  2. Charlie Bolton says:

    I was at a meeting where a very senior officer suggested looking again at services, including home care.

    This is because of a 10% deficit in budgets (over the next couple of years) in any case, and the likelihood that the next government, whatever its complexion, will cut budgets by another 10% at least.

    I’m not sure Labour is squeaky clean on this one.

  3. AL says:

    er, we need less council services, not more! down with this sort of thing.

  4. inks says:

    I can only admire the concept of a consultation where staff aren’t supposed to tell anyone what the consultation is about. Presumably some panicking has led to that?

    One for Private Eye’s ‘Rotten Boroughs’ I think, TBB.

  5. Charlie

    I hear that social services is £4m over budget already, can you verify?

  6. TBB says:

    From Resources Scrutiny 16 October:

    Home care and direct payment budgets are projected to overspend by

    Which might explain why the Post is reporting cuts in Direct payments to the disabled today?

    However, the department’s overall overspend is £4m:

    Health and Social Care are currently forecasting (as at August 2009)
    an overspend of £4.1m

  7. dreamingspire says:

    Southmead Customer Service Point moving to an office in Southmead Hospital? Can you believe that?

  8. Thornside says:

    This is a massive issue for the people of Bristol, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable among us. Many people rely on CSP staff (as with other threatened council services) to help them keep their lives up together in some way. These proposals are a naive, short-term attempt at saving money, they will NOT benefit the people who use these services.

    Cheers Blogger for the coverage, I hope you’ll help keep it in the public eye.

    And thanks for highlighting how the frontline BCC workers feel about this – angry and pissed off. They are rightly proud of the service they give to the people of Bristol, and need the support of the general public to overturn these outrageous proposals.

  9. When I was at Waring House yesterday they put up a sign that said it will close alongside the information about the invite only CONsultations under the heading

    Modernising Customer Access

    Hilarious self parody letter from Hopkins in the post – either that or its a spoof

  10. thebristolblogger says:

    Unfortunately Gary’s letter is not on the Cancer’s site yet but I’ll post a link when it is as it’s quite special.

    ‘Modernising Customer Access’ is brilliant. Woolworths should have put that sign up last year.

  11. Charlie Bolton says:

    I want to know how much the refurbishment of Waring House cost.

    If you live in Southville, it looks like you are being sold down the river. Zion House closed. Promise of a CSP in Bedminster removed. Waring House proposed for closure.

    And advice to travel further on the bus to Phoenix House.

  12. thebristolblogger says:

    Hard figures are hard to come by for Waring House but a report to cabinet in September 2007 says this:

    To refurbish the two new CSPs and convert the public counter services at Wilder House, Amelia Court and Brunel House into office accommodation will cost £1.3m. £0.3m will be paid for by the HRA leaving £1m to be prudentially borrowed over 10 years at an annual cost of £134k.
    (Peter Robinson, Head of Corporate Finance and Procurement) (pdf)

    Waring House was a temporary (apparently uncosted) measure while a site was found in East Street, Bedminster. How much it has cost we don’t know.

    But we do know BCC borrowed £1m in early 2008 for Customer Service Points and they’re paying it back at £134k a year.

    If they shut the places, we’ll then be paying £134k a year for some new office accommodation (for staff!) that’s liable to get scrapped too.

    18 months ago this was supposed to be a long term (ten year) policy. Now we have a new policy. Will that be changed in 18 months too?

    This is just profligate waste.

  13. Charlie

    do you want to join me in petitioning against the closure?

  14. Gary Hopkins says:

    Let us first get a couple of matters clear.
    Officers came up with a response to the fact that the % of residents who were dealing with queeries/complaints etc by visits and face to face contact dropped of more quickly than was expected. There was a failure to get political agreement and they put out their planned response which naturally caused concern.
    Their response was in my view inappropriate as they failed to take properly into account the social need of the admittedly low % of residents.
    2 years ago when Labour were producing their plans on this I objected most strongly and attempted a call in that was rejected. We had previously planned a replacement at Broad walk for the badly situated Salcombe Rd former housing office. The Labour plan cancelled the Broadwalk replacement. This was a blow to not only Knowle but also Totterdown,Stockwood,Filwood ,Hengrove and Whitchurch as Broad walk is connected to these as it is comparatively well served by public transport. When officers were unveiling their plans the other night at a meeting that Charlie and a number of other councillors were at it was clear to me that although they were doing the right thing by Knowle and surrounding wards the methodology was wrong and the consultation was likely to be ineffective.( BCC has a longstanding ,and in the past well deserved, record of having sham consultations.)
    Although it is not in my portfolio,and I was not attending as a cabinet member, I have now taken on the responsibility for improving matters.
    1 The consultation will be extended to January.
    2 The managers will be visiting every neighbourhood partnership during that period to ensure that all local concerns are taken on board.
    3 An experioenced manager with assistance has been drafted in to make sure the job gets done properly.
    4 Officers had projected forward customer demand and were therefore long term planning for only 3 sites a number of years hence.There are so many things that could happen over this period that it is not productive or helpful to even consider this now so we will be looking at the next year or two only and that is what the cabinet will consider when the consultation has finished.
    5 More emphasis will have to be put upon enabling customers to be comfortable with other methods of contact. For example traing up staff to help people in sites where there is free internet and phone access.
    6 Communication of changes will need to be better than it has been in the past.

    I cannot prejudge the result of the process but it does seem logical to respond to drops in number of customers by adjusting opening times rather than closing whole offices especially if we cannot find a good productive use for the.It also makes sense to share offices and this can also help the customers. In the Knowle case we are probably looking at sharing with the post office for mutual benefit.
    The Waring house site appeared as a replacement for Broadwalk without much planning. No wonder it was uncosted.

  15. thebristolblogger says:

    Is that a u-turn?

  16. Charlie Bolton says:

    Bristolwestpaul said


    do you want to join me in petitioning against the closure?

    Happy to consider it.


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