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The revenues and benefits service provided by Bury MBC is fair but has uncertain prospects for improvement, accordi...
The revenues and benefits service provided by Bury MBC is fair but has uncertain prospects for improvement, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission.

The inspection team gave the service one star because customers and stakeholders are generally satisfied with the service provided and find staff to be accessible, helpful and approachable.

Brian Stevenson, commissioning inspector said: 'Customers show a reasonable level of satisfaction with the service, but there is more to be done and the Council needs to develop clear short and long-term aims for the service, and some challenging performance targets. Staff appraisal and development systems must also be developed to ensure planned improvements can be delivered. There is a clear impetus for change, but much of the work that needs to be done is still at an early stage. '

The inspection report highlights a number of key strengths:

- The service consults with customers every year and overall satisfaction rates are between 75 and 80 per cent. Customers and stakeholders are also very positive and enthusiastic about the new consultation forums set up to involve customers more in the service.

- Users say telephone, email and personal contact with the service is good.

- The service performs well against some national standards, and regularly compares its performance against other Greater Manchester local authorities.

However, inspectors also found weaknesses:

- The service has no current business plan and no specific aims, and there are no clearly defined and published customer service standards.

- The provision of information for customers is inconsistent and does not meet the needs of all sectors of the community. Customer service across the service's various outlets, for example area offices, is also inconsistent.

- A significant proportion of customers do not complete the benefit claim form correctly first time, leading to delays in benefit payments. There has been little analysis to find out why this is.

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:

- Publicise customer service standards and improve the information available to customers, ensuring it is provided in other formats and languages.

- Ensure all staff, including those in area offices, are trained to provide a consistent service to customers, and in particular, to help customers complete benefit claim forms correctly.

- Look at ways to enable the benefits and housing services work more closely together so they can provide an efficient, integrated service to customers.

The revenues and benefits service employs around 100 people. For 2001/02 the budget for revenues was£2.4m, and for benefits,£1.65m. Each year, the council collects around£46m council tax,£36m in business rates and£23m in sundry debt. It pays out£35m in housing and council tax benefit to approximately 14,000 claimants. (December 2001 figures).

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