Access to Services Audit Commission Inspection Report

Access to Services Audit Commission Inspection Report

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Inspection report July 2004 Access to Services Nottinghamshire County Council p 2 Nottinghamshire County Council - Access to Services Contents Summary 3 Background 3 Scoring the service 3 Recommendations 4 Report 6 Context 6 The locality 6 The council 6 The council’s best value review 7 How good is the service? 8 Are the aims clear and challenging? 8 Does the service meet these aims? 8 How does the performance compare? 12 Summary 14 What are the prospects for improvement to the service? 15 Summary 19 Appendices 21 Documents reviewed 21 Reality checks undertaken 21 List of people interviewed 22 Nottinghamshire County Council - Access to Services p 3 Summary Background 1 Nottinghamshire County Council is the eleventh largest local authority in the UK, situated in the East Midlands. The population is 750,000 of which 4.35 per cent are from minority ethnic communities compared to a national average of 13 per cent. 2 The county has a diverse economy including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, engineering, textiles and clothing, food, professional and financial services. There has been a decline in the traditional industries and a shift toward the service sector. Unemployment is below the national average, at 1.9 per cent and wage levels are higher than the regional average although lower than the all England figure. There is a wide range of affluence and deprivation within the county with some areas ranked in the top ten ...

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Inspection report
July 2004


Access to
Services
Nottinghamshire County Council
p 2 Nottinghamshire County Council - Access to Services

Contents
Summary 3
Background 3
Scoring the service 3
Recommendations 4
Report 6
Context 6
The locality 6
The council 6
The council’s best value review 7
How good is the service? 8
Are the aims clear and challenging? 8
Does the service meet these aims? 8
How does the performance compare? 12
Summary 14
What are the prospects for improvement to the service? 15
Summary 19
Appendices 21
Documents reviewed 21
Reality checks undertaken 21
List of people interviewed 22

Nottinghamshire County Council - Access to Services p 3

Summary
Background
1 Nottinghamshire County Council is the eleventh largest local authority in the UK,
situated in the East Midlands. The population is 750,000 of which 4.35 per cent
are from minority ethnic communities compared to a national average of 13 per
cent.
2 The county has a diverse economy including healthcare, pharmaceuticals,
engineering, textiles and clothing, food, professional and financial services.
There has been a decline in the traditional industries and a shift toward the
service sector. Unemployment is below the national average, at 1.9 per cent and
wage levels are higher than the regional average although lower than the all
England figure. There is a wide range of affluence and deprivation within the
county with some areas ranked in the top ten per cent nationally.
3 The council is Labour led with 40 of the 63 seats.
4 employs 23,000 staff across all services and has an annual
expenditure of around £684 million.
5 The council’s access to services best value review (BVR) covered all
departments within the council.
Scoring the service
6 We have assessed the council as providing a ‘fair’ one-star service that has
promising prospects for improvement. Our judgements are based on the
evidence obtained during the inspection and are outlined below.
1Scoring chart : Nottinghamshire County Council - Access to Services
Prospects for improvement?
‘a fair service that
Poor Fair Good Excellent has promising
prospects for
Excellent
improvement’
Promising
A good
service?
Uncertain
Poor




1 The scoring chart displays performance in two dimensions. The horizontal axis shows how good the
service or function is now, on a scale ranging from no stars for a service that is poor (at the left-hand
end) to three stars for an excellent service (right-hand end). The vertical axis shows the improvement
prospects of the service, also on a four-point scale.

















p 4 Nottinghamshire County Council - Access to Services

7 Access to services within Nottinghamshire County Council is fair because:
the council provides high quality face to face access to services through its
county contact offices and outreach services;
the pilot contact centre is providing a similar level of services to telephone
callers for a limited number of services; and
the council has a good website.
8 However:
the county contact offices are not available throughout the county;
the contact centre is still a pilot;
the majority of incoming telephone calls still use the council’s fragmented
telephone network; and
the council doesn’t compare well with like councils for relevant national
performance indicators.
9 Access to the council’s services will probably improve because:
there is a clear commitment to improve access to services;
funding is in place to improve telephone access by expanding the contact
centre pilot to cover all council services;
there is a track record of improving customer access; and
the new customer management division is now responsible for co-ordinating
all key cross service access channels and establishing the development of
the council’s customer service and access approach.
10 However there are still some risks in place:
Customer care training is not mandatory throughout the council.
There is no clear detailed plan for the improvement of physical access to
services.
There is no systematic corporate learning from complaints to inform future
improvements to customer access.
Recommendations
11 To rise to the challenge of continuous improvement, councils need inspection
reports that offer practical pointers for improvement. In this context, we make the
following recommendations. The council should:
complete the work necessary to finalise its customer contact strategy so that
there is a clearly documented plan for achieving the council’s aims for
customer access across all delivery channels;
ensure that lessons are learnt corporately from complaints made by the
public, and that this is linked to the process for learning from consultation to
influence planning for future service delivery; and
increase the speed of implementing change to deliver timely and tangible
improvement across all access channels for all council services.

Nottinghamshire County Council - Access to Services p 5

12 We would like to thank the staff of Nottinghamshire County Council, particularly
Suzanne Lloyd, Andrew Muter, Margaret Radford and Moira Whelan, who made
us welcome and who met our requests efficiently and courteously.

Terry Atkins
Paul Higton
Inspectors

Dates of inspection: 10 May – 14 May 2004
Email: t-atkins@audit-commission.gov.uk
p-higton@a


For more information please contact:
Audit Commission Operations Directorate
Central Region
Bridge Business Park
Bridge Park Road
Thurmaston
Leicester LE4 8BL
www.audit-commission.gov.uk
0116 269 3311


p 6 Nottinghamshire County Council - Access to Services

Report
Context
13 This report has been prepared by the Audit Commission (‘the Commission’)
following an inspection under Section 10 of the Local Government Act 1999, and
issued in accordance with its duty under Section 13 of the 1999 Act.
The locality
14 Nottinghamshire County Council serves approximately 750,000 people. The
greatest concentrations of population are in the Greater Nottingham area and the
other main towns of Mansfield, Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Sutton-in-Ashfield, Newark,
Worksop and Retford. One of the key features of Nottinghamshire is its diverse
nature and the county is regarded as including three types of area: urban, rural
and former coalfield areas.
15 There is a higher than average proportion of people aged 20-24 in the county due
to the presence of two Nottingham based universities. The 2001 census showed
that 4.35 per cent of population of Nottinghamshire were from minority ethnic
backgrounds, compared with a national average of 13 per cent. Nottinghamshire
has significant communities originating from Italy and Eastern Europe.
16 Nottinghamshire’s economy has seen great change in recent years. In particular,
the decline of coal mining led to the loss of 54,000 jobs between 1961 and 2002,
while employment in the main manufacturing sector, textiles and clothing, halved
between 1991 and 1999. These job losses have accelerated in the last two
years. A continuing reliance on manufacturing industries is mirrored by under-
representation of service and knowledge-based industries.
17 The county comprises seven district and borough councils; Ashfield, Bassetlaw,
Broxtowe, Gedling, Mansfield, Newark and Sherwood and Rushcliffe. In the
2004 Deprivation of Indices, two of these are in the top 20 per cent of deprived
th th districts, Mansfield being ranked 36 and Ashfield 50 out of 354 districts.
thHowever Rushcliffe is in the bottom 20 per cent ranked 320 . Unemployment
stands at 1.9 per cent for the county which is lower than the region at 2.3 per cent
and all England at 2.5 per cent.
The council
18 Under local government reorganisation, the county was separated in 1998 from
the City of Nottingham, which now has unitary status.
19 The council has 63 elected members and is controlled by the Labour party who
have 40 seats. The Conservatives hold 20 seats and the Liberal Democrats
three seats. The council’s annual expenditure in 2003/04 was £684 million and it
employs 23,000 staff.
20 The council operates a leader and cabinet structure and is managed under six
directorates; chief executives, culture and community, education, environment,
resources and social services.
21 The council’s vision is presented in its strategic plan 2001/2005 “Building a
Future”. This includes making;
Nottinghamshire a safe, healthy prosperous and attractive county;
Nottinghamshire County Council into one of the top 20 councils in the UK;
and ‹



















Nottinghamshire County Council - Access to Services p 7

strong partnerships to deliver real benefits and ensuring all people and
sections of the community can access its services.
22 The council’s priorities are identified in ‘Building a Future’:
Learning - improve standards of education and achievement.
Social Care and Health - promote independence and opportunity for people
in need. Build on and forge new partnerships with NHS bodies…promote
good health and tackle inequalities.
Culture - ensure everyone has the chance to enjoy arts, sports, outdoors, a
good read, local heritage, ideas and information.
Regeneration - with partners, promote a local economy where skills, wage
levels and enterprise match or exceed national averages.
Environment - safeguard natural and built environment and work for more
and better public transport options, better roads, more recycling and less
waste.
Community - build thriving safe communities…keep local people informed
about and engaged in decisions about services.
The council’s best value review
23 The council undertook a review of access to services during 2001/02. The scope
of the review was to examine how people in Nottinghamshire gained access to
the county council’s services and how the council communicated with its
customers and public. It aimed to do this by considering the ways in which
people:
found out about what the council did;
asked for and received the services offered;
had a stake in the design and delivery of services and information; and
found out about the councils policies, how they could be influenced and the
local democratic process.
24 The review established that service access was a confusing picture for the public
in Nottinghamshire with a number of characteristics:
There were around 120 separate physical access points covering a diverse
range of services.
There were a number of help lines.
There was a fragmented telephone network with many local telephone
arrangements.
There was inconsistency in opening hours.
There was a disjointed website.
25 The review produced an improvement plan which was approved by cabinet in
May 2002. Following the CPA and IDeA inspections a number of specific
elements of the plan were used as part of the Nottinghamshire improvement plan,
including:
the pilot contact centre;
the corporate communications function;
the Nottinghamshire on line portal partnership; and
the corporate communications strategy. ‹








p 8 Nottinghamshire County Council - Access to Services


How good is the service?
Are the aims clear and challenging?
26 Inspectors look to see how a council has agreed the key aims for the service
being inspected, how clear these aims are to the people that receive the service
and whether these reflect the corporate aims of the organisation as a whole.
27 Aims need to be challenging, need to address local needs and support national
objectives. This requires the council to consider and demonstrate how a service
contributes to its wider corporate aims and community plans.
28 The aims for customer access were established from the best value review (BVR)
and can be summarised as:
a single and corporate approach for access to services;
a customer contact centre;
one stop access;
a customer focussed website;
better management of customer relationships;
better quality of information; and
increased staff and public access to on-line information and services.
29 There is clear linkage between the corporate vision for Nottinghamshire and what
the aims are for customer access. For example the vision states that the council
‘will continue to strive for fairness and equality so that all people and sections of
the community can access our services’. This linkage gives customer access
high priority within the council.
30 Staff are clear on the council’s aims for customer access and recognise that
customer focus is a high priority. This is reinforced by a customer service code of
practice and standards. Staff are informed of progress with customer access via
bi-monthly internal bulletins to service managers which commenced in January
2004.
31 There is no approved customer contact strategy. The BV improvement plan had
a target to produce a corporate customer contact strategy by October 2002. A
draft customer contact strategy (version 4) was produced in April 2003.
However, this has not progressed in the last 12 months. As a result, staff are not
clear about how the council’s aims for customer access are going to be achieved.
Does the service meet these aims?
32 Having considered the aims that the council has set for the service, inspectors
make an assessment of how well the council is meeting these aims. This includes
an assessment of performance against specific service standards and targets
and the council’s approach to measuring whether it is actually delivering what it
set out to do.
33 Criteria for judgement have been developed based on the following five areas:
Do people know about council services? We look at promotion through
different media and targeted and planned communication of services to
reach the right people at the right time.
How accessible are the services? In terms of location, language, opening
hours and accessibility for people with disabilities. We also looked at choice. ‹





Nottinghamshire County Council - Access to Services p 9

This included face to face, telephone and web access, whether council
services are integrated and how the council works with partners to improve
access.
Has the council defined and publicised standards to meet different
stakeholder needs? We looked at whether the council has clearly defined
standards which are publicised to meet different stakeholder needs or
whether there is a one size fits all approach.
Are services consistently and reliably delivered? Staffing, training, skills
and evaluation are examined as well as how the council manages resources
to match demand.
Are services responsive? A key area of investigation is how the council
listens and learns from complaints, compliments, consultation and feedback
to customers, how the council deals with service failures and the monitoring
of trends to inform future service provision.
Do people know about council services?
34 The public are not clear about council services and what the county council does.
The people of Nottinghamshire find it difficult to differentiate between county
council and district council services, which is not uncommon in areas with several
tiers of local government.
35 The council has rationalised the number of previously disjointed websites into
one council website. This site is very good at telling people what the council
does and how to access the services.
36 A programme of awareness raising has been undertaken by the council with both
its own staff and the public. Internally articles have been published in the in
house newsletter and departmental newsletters and via the intranet. Externally
the website has been promoted in the ‘Nottinghamshire County News’. The
distribution of this has had some teething problems and consequently its
existence is generally not well known amongst the public. The council has
recognised this and has recently changed its distributor.
37 The council uses local community events throughout the year to promote
awareness of council services. In 2003/04 council officers attended over 20
events, which included the:
Manton Gala;
Selston Festival; and
Nottingham Forrest Open Day
38 However, this work is not being centrally coordinated and there is no standard
display information. Therefore messages to the public are not standardised and
may not reach all parts of the county, which could lead to the current confusion
about council services.
39 The council does not promote its libraries as a potential access point for other
council services. Although leaflets about other council services are displayed in
libraries, the number of leaflets available can be confusing to the public. As a
result, libraries are not regarded by the public as a contact point.
How accessible are the services?
40 The three main access routes to council services are the telephone, the internet
and face to face contact. Since the council undertook its BVR it has put
improvements in place for all three areas. However, there are differences in
accessibility for different services and different locations. p 10 Nottinghamshire County Council - Access to Services

41 The council’s BVR found that it lost an average of 38.7 per cent of calls when
lines are busy or unanswered. This amounted to 100,000 lost calls in September
2001. In response to this the council has set up a pilot contact centre with eight
advisors who handle calls for the waste and recycling helpline, asbestos permits,
education clothing allowances and free school meals, plus calls for trading
standards. Latest performance management reports for the contact centre show
that only 1.2 per cent of calls are unanswered.
42 Specific action has also been taken within certain parts of the council; for
example the student support service has reduced the percentage of incoming
telephone calls aborted or engaged from 49 per cent in 2001 to 11 per cent in
2003 by increasing the number of extensions available and by the introduction of
an interactive voice response answering system. However, most of the council’s
services are still accessed via the large number of telephone numbers and the
fragmented telephone system that was in place at the time of the BVR.
Therefore many of the council’s services are still not easily accessible via the
telephone.
43 Council services are accessible via their website. The council’s website was
assessed by the Society of IT Managers (SOCITM) in February 2004.
Nottinghamshire was cited for good practice for news value and navigation.
SOCITM also tested the website against five different scenarios. In two of these,
the information on the website was found to be inadequate; one was satisfactory;
and two were very good. The scenarios judged as inadequate were based
around a teacher looking for a new job and a single parent on low income.
Website usage has increased by 35 per cent over a 10 month period, to 70,000
visits in February 2004.
44 Offices have been set up around the county to allow customers to have any
council queries addressed face-to-face in one place. Staff in these offices will
also attempt to answer queries relating to non county council functions. These
county contact offices have been set up, in partnership with local district councils,
in Mansfield, Retford, Sutton and Gedling, with weekly outreach surgeries held in
other locations including Selston, Tuxford and Kirkby in Ashfield.
45 The council is making its services accessible to people in rural areas. A mobile
rural contact point has been set up in partnership with the police and district
councils at Bassetlaw and Newark & Sherwood. This visits over 70 villages
throughout the two districts on a monthly basis with a member of staff from one of
the county contact offices. Although there is no electronic link from the vehicle to
council systems, this does give isolated communities access to many of the
services available through the county contact offices.
46 The council is also working with Bassetlaw District Council on a scheme which
connects local access sites within the district to the county contact point at
Retford through video conferencing. This is currently available from 11 sites,
including community resource centres, local village halls and a post office. There
are future plans to expand the network to include more villages, solicitors and the
Citizens Advice Bureau.
47 The council addresses the needs of non English speakers through the use of
language line within the county contact points. This gives access to over 100
languages. The council also has its own translation and interpretation service.
The council has also increased library opening hours and provided a dial a ride
bus service in rural areas.