The Audit Commission inspection team gave the council one star out of a possible three because although local people can access the council in a number of ways there are no consistent standards for customer access and service. And the council cannot yet accurately measure customer satisfaction on the issue.
'Leicestershire County Council has in recent years invested significantly in improving the ways in which local people can get access to services. It has not however yet ensured that people approaching the council always receive a consistent standard of response. The future plans for change should ensure that improvements in access to services are made but there are some risks around delivering these.
The inspectors found:
* Councillors and senior managers are determined to improve access to council services;
* The council has a long term commitment to e-government and improving information communications technology. By dedicating appropriate effort and resources to these issues it has laid the foundation for future improvements
* There are inconsistencies in the way that people contacting the council are dealt with, both over the phone and face to face
* There is no system in place to consistently monitor the application of standards relating to access and customer contact
* Targets and evaluation for much of the work undertaken so far have not focussed on outcomes for local people. This means that the council is making changes that may be improving access for local people. But it cannot necessarily measure what has been most or least effective in order to inform future prioritisation and development.
To help the service improve, inspectors recopmmended that the council should, amongst other things:
* Review the way it measures customer satisfaction with access to services, ensuring that evaluation and measurement are looked at from the customer's point of view
* Develop appropriate targets for projects aimed at improving access to services, centred on benefits for customers. These targets should also help the council to work out what costs and benefits there are for the community from the projects
* Develop systems and practice to ensure that the council learns from complaints or comments made by the public
Leicestershire CC commenced its programme on improving access to services in 2002/03. It set up a working group to oversee projects: the Better Access to Better Services Initiative (BABSI). This has brought together a number of projects, and produced an access strategy for Leicestershire that is currently under review. The capital budget for the BABSI programme in 2004/05 is£821,000 and the revenue budget is£703,000. This is predicted to rise significantly from 2005/06 when the council expects to begin implementation of its proposed telephone contact centre.
Copies of the report are available on the Audit Commission website at www.audit-commission.gov.uk
A press release from the local authority follows.
Improving access to services is a key priority
We have established our Better Access to Better Services Initiative (BABSI) over the last couple of years with a number of projects. People do not care which local authority is responsible, they just want to obtain advice and help from 'the council'. The BABSI programme is intended to do just that - by the county council working in partnership with districts and boroughs to give people a single point from which to get help either by face to face contact in one of the new joint Connect service shops, or through the brand new website or by telephone.
The audit commission's report recognises our commitment to e-government and improving information communications technology, which are important foundations on which to build the BABSI programme. The report reinforces the plans that are already in place by awarding one star, and confirms that the prospects for improving access to council services are promising.
In line with existing project plans, the county council is employing more staff dedicated to customer services, opening additional joint service shops across the County where people can access all their council services, and developing a more consistent source of information, both over the phone, internet and face to face, for dealing with our customers. It is still too early in the process to assess how the new services are meeting customers' needs, but we will be carrying out surveys in due course.
Kevin Feltham, cabinet lead member for the Better Access to Better Services Initiative, said: 'Improving public access to county council services is a key priority for us, and following an initial planning period, an extensive programme of improvements is well underway. For example, the latest of our joint Service Shop developments - at Hinckley in partnership with the borough council - was launched only this week, and two more will be opened shortly. Our website has also been completely redeveloped.'
The Hinckley Service Shop is the second in the programme following on from the joint Service Shop which was opened in Melton BC offices in October 2004. A third joint Service Shop will be launched in Harborough DC offices at on 18February. A Service Shop at County Hall will be launched on 9 March.