The Audit Commission in Wales inspection team gave the services one star (out of a possible three) because they found that people generally find council front line staff to be helpful and friendly. But the independent report says that there is room for improvement, in particular in dealing with telephone calls from the public.
'People's contact with their local council should be as trouble free as possible. Neath Port Talbot clearly takes this aspect of their work seriously and has some interesting projects to facilitate public contact, in particular the First Stop Shop at Pontardawe.
'The council has clear plans for further improvement, and these plans will have the greatest effect if implemented together with our recommendations. In particular, the council needs to invest in improving main reception areas and providing customer care training for staff.'
The inspection report highlights a number of positive features:
-- The First Stop Shop at Pontardawe is staffed by knowledgeable and friendly staff;
-- The Building Repairs Call Centre is open for long periods each day and at weekends;
-- Users told inspectors that they find front line council staff polite, helpful and friendly;
-- Users told inspectors that they are generally satisfied with the level of service.
However, inspectors also found some areas of concern, including:
-- Main receptions are not very well decorated or furnished;
-- Signage lacks consistency of style and leaflet and information displays are haphazard and cluttered;
-- Some callers told inspectors about delays in being transferred to the required extension;
-- The council reports lost or frustrated incoming 'phone calls of between 10 per cent and 32 per cent.
Inspectors believe that the Service has promising prospects for improvement because:
-- The council has decided to establish a call centre when appropriate and funding will be available;
-- A strategy has been agreed to develop First Stop Shops at Neath and Port Talbot Civic Centres;
-- Progress is being made against most of the service's improvement targets;
-- Some elements of the service's Action Plan have already been implemented.
Recommendations to help improve the service include:
-- Low cost, short term improvements to the main reception areas should be introduced;
-- A customer care training programme should be developed for all staff;
-- The council should consider additional staffing to implement some of the short term actions needed to bring about improvement;
-- The work of the council's marketing group and its public interface services implementation group should be joined up to ensure maximum effectiveness.
Neath Port Talbot CBC's public interface services consist of front line services relating to telephone and face to face contact. The service cost an estimated£1.48m in 2000/01. The services operates a first stop shop at Pontardawe and a building repairs call centre.
The full report can be found on the Audit Commission website: www.audit-commission.gov.uk
1. The service was inspected as part of the government's best value initiative, which places a duty on all councils to deliver the most economic, efficient and effective services possible.
2. The inspection involved interviews with council staff and members, and members of the public using the service.
3. The Audit Commission inspection service was established to provide the public with an independent assessment of whether best value is being achieved by their local council. Inspection reports judge how well a service is currently serving local people, based on a star rating from 0-3 where 0 is poor and 3 excellent, and how likely it is to improve in the future.
4. The government has placed a duty of best value on councils requiring them to improve local services over the next five years. Councils must report annually on their performance (best value performance plans) and review all of their services over the next five years in order to identify and achieve continual improvements in local services.
5. Further details about the role of the Audit Commission can be obtained from - http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk