Agenda item

Overview of Here to Help Facility

To receive an overview of the Here to Help reporting facility.


123.1  The Director of Communities delivered a presentation on the Here to Help and Report It facilities. She provided an overview of the context, explaining that Report It and Here to Help were part of a digital transformation process brought about by the ‘Together Gloucester’ project.  She noted that the work sat across several service areas, including Policy and Resources which had oversight of the council’s IT and transformation services and Communities through the customer service element. The Director of Communities further advised that the cyber incident in December 2021 had had a significant impact on the transformation process as business analyst and IT resources were preoccupied for several months with the cyber recovery.


123.2  The Director of Communities provided an overview of the Here to Help central email inbox, and Report It as an online reporting tool accessed through My Gloucester. She explained that Report It was a quick and easy way for residents to report issues online, which allowed customer services colleagues to help residents who need more support over the phone or via Here to Help email. It was noted that registered Report It users were increasing, and the Cabinet Member for Performance and Resources confirmed that she had two separate Report It accounts for reporting issues as a resident, and reporting issues in her capacity as Councillor.


123.3  The Director of Communities outlined some planned new processes and next steps for the services. She confirmed that feedback from Members’ interviews had been noted and was being taken on board. The Director of Communities also provided an update on the review of face-to-face services.


123.4  The Chair reflected on his frustrations with reporting issues and receiving return email notifications signposting to Gloucestershire County Council. He asked whether consideration could be given to passing Members’ referrals onto County Council colleagues. The Director of Communities confirmed that City Council customer services colleagues were in regular contact with the County Council, however if emails were to be passed on automatically, the County Council would return a response to customer services rather than individual Members.


123.5  In response to a suggestion from Councillor Norman it was agreed that a list of City Council and County Council responsibilities be circulated to all Members to assist with signposting queries at first instance.


123.6  Councillor Hilton noted that he preferred to raise issues on behalf of residents via email rather than through online Report It or Contact Us forms as he found it easier to track casework through email trail. He expressed the view that a dedicated email box for Councillors was a good suggestion, noting that the County Council Highways team had a dedicated email box for Members which he found useful. Councillor Gravells noted his agreement with Councillor Hilton’s comments.


123.7  Councillor Hilton stated that he was aware that reception staff at Gloucestershire County Council had raised concerns about signposting residents to the City Council, noting that the Eastgate Office was not open to the public. Councillor Norman noted that she was not aware that concerns from the County Council had been passed back to Officers and stated that the Customer Services team would welcome an approach from County Council colleagues to discuss the scale of the issue. The Director of Communities agreed to ask the Customer Services Manager to contact County Council colleagues to discuss the matter further.


123.8  In response to additional comments from Councillor Hilton regarding a City Council post box, the Director of Communities agreed that Officers would look into the location of the Gateway post box to ascertain whether it was easily accessible and signposted. Councillor Noman further advised that it was the recommendation of the Finance Team that residents either pay for their Council Tax online, or if residents preferred to pay via cash or cheque, they do so via their local Pay Point.


123.9  Councillor Pullen agreed with earlier comments made by Councillor Hilton and Councillor Gravells concerning emails. He reflected on his own experience and expressed the view that it would be helpful to have a centralised email for Councillors. He highlighted that some residents did not have access to the internet or a phone and noted that he was concerned that these residents still needed to be able to access services. Councillor Pullen also referred to the narrative in the presentation confirming that 133 surveys had been completed in response to the face-to-face services review, and expressed the view that this was not enough data to solely base decisions on. Councillor Norman clarified that there were no plans to phase out the Here to Help email facility, explaining that the idea was to allow residents to contact the council in a way that suited them. She confirmed that digitally excluded residents still had options available to them including telephone and face to face contact, and that encouraging residents to make use of online reporting facilities would enable Customer Services Officers to maximise their time in helping residents who needed further support. Councillor Norman reflected on her own experience of using Report It and advised that Members and residents were able to track progress of their case on the dashboard.


123.10          In response to a query from Councillor Conder concerning Customer Services telephone calls, the Director of Communities explained that abandoned calls were not always necessarily where a resident ended the call as a result of waiting times, but might be where they have followed signposting hints on the holding message.


123.11          Councillor Wilson expressed that his preferred means of reporting issues was through Report It. A discussion ensued regarding possible improvements and Councillor Wilson noted that he would like to see a mechanism where he could thank Officers with their assistance with more complex cases through this facility. Councillor Norman confirmed that conversations had taken place with regards to improvements to the dashboard, however there had been delays in bringing these forward due to the 2021 cyber incident. She advised Councillor Wilson that she had received a commitment from the team to revisit improvements.


123.12          In response to comments from Councillor Sawyer concerning demand for face-to-face appointments, Councillor Norman pointed out that residents using the intercom and direct dial services were often individuals looking for assistance outside of the City Council remit who would then be signposted appropriately.


123.13          Councillor Sawyer requested clarification as to how residents were able to request a face-to-face appointment, to which Councillor Norman responded that they could do so via email or telephone. The Director of Communities further confirmed that residents could contact the Customer Service switchboard number on 01452 396396 or through the direct dial telephone at the Gateway.


123.14          Councillor Gravells commented that Councillors needed a quick and efficient reporting system and expressed that in his view, Report It and Here to Help did not deliver quick results. He reflected on some of his positive experiences of raising issues through County Council mechanisms and raised concerns regarding the tone of the Here to Help automatic acknowledgement emails. Councillor Gravells referred to elements of the Council Constitution suggesting that Members should liaise with Heads of Service and Directors rather than with junior Officers directly and expressed support for a Members email box. Councillor Norman responded that the acknowledgement email was standard across many organisations, and not unique to Gloucester.


123.15          Councillor Durdey queried whether further information on the ‘any other query’ category of calls was available and it was agreed that enquiries would be made with the Customer Services team. Councillor Norman noted that it was her expectation that following improvements to Waste and Street Scene online reporting, telephone traffic would reduce.


          RESOLVED – That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee NOTE the presentation.


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