South Cambs District Council call waiting times revealed
- Credit: Daniel WIlson
Residents in South Cambridgeshire are having to wait more than five minutes to speak with the council on the phone – considerably more time than in recent years.
The latest figures show residents had to wait on average five minutes and 14 seconds before anyone answered in the first five months of this year.
That's compared with two minutes and three seconds in the same period the year before.
The average waiting time in April this year was six minutes and 13 seconds - the highest in recent records.
The number of calls abandoned before anyone from the council answered has also risen, from 8,219 - 13 per cent - in January to May last year, to 19,997 - 27 per cent - in the same period this year.
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The number of calls increased by 9,655 to 74,560 for the first five months in 2019 compared with the same period the year before.
The leader of the Conservative group on the council, Peter Topping, criticised the performance, saying council priorities were to blame and not the staff.
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He said: "The customer service portal is the external face of the council and the staff who run it work hard.
"I've sat with customer staff who have been taking calls not just about bins being emptied, but about domestic violence where the caller was fearful of her safety.
"These calls matter and they cannot go unanswered.
"The Liberal Democrats who run the council have lost sight of the purpose of the council, which is to provide services to residents, not divert resources into endless new initiatives to show how green and clever they are. The customer service area needs urgent attention and support but clearly they are being starved of the resources to do a decent job."
The lead cabinet member for customer service and business improvement, Liberal Democrat Councillor Philippa Hart, praised the team in the customer contact service and said the council is addressing the problem.
She said the statistics were presented to the council's scrutiny and overview committee "because, as a council, we really care about each customer's call or visit to the Contact Service. And to ensure customers are receiving the support they need, we need to assess what pressures there might be on the team in order for us to address them."
She said the turnover from people moving to other roles in the council is high, and the council is considering over-recruiting to tackle the problem.
She added: "We have also been enabling customers to do much more online - from viewing and paying council tax bills or applying for reductions, to applying for support or grant funding, or reporting fly tips or planning breaches or missed bin collections.
"Creating a channel shift in this way isn't an effort to replace the Contact Service; when more customers are able to complete straight forward transactions online it not only takes less time for our customers, but also frees advisors to respond more quickly to customers who do need to speak to one of our team over the phone or in person."
In January to May in 2018, 64,905 calls were made to South Cambridgeshire District Council. Of these 8,219 were abandoned, which is 13 per cent. The average call answer time was 2mins2secs.
In January to May in 2019, 74,560 calls were made to the council. Of these 19,997 were abandoned. The average call answer time was 5mins14secs.