Our Moment To Shine or an Olympic cock up?

Unless you have been living in a cave for the past month or two you will probably know that the Olympic Torch Relay is coming to Stoke-on-Trent next week.

Having the Olympic Torch come in to your city is being billed as ‘Your Moment To Shine’ as you play your part in what is arguably the biggest sporting event in the world. On 30 May the eyes of the world will be on Stoke-on-Trent as the torch arrives in the city and heads up to Hanley park to light the cauldron after an afternoon of events and entertainment. Continue reading

Can We Trust Our Council When It Comes To Rubbish?

The more time I spend researching and investigating Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the Enhanced Recycling the more I feel I can’t trust them. The more I look, and I’m not even scratching the surface right now, the more untruths and misinformation I find.

Take this FOI request for example and in particular

What is the cost to Stoke City Council forecast/expected to be under the terms of the contract with the subcontractor for the expected shortfall in waste delivered to the waste to energy plant for the FY 2009/2010?

and the council response dated 31 August 2010

There are no liabilities associated within the contract to the sub contractor. The waste disposal contract is between ourselves and the Contractor. The terms of the contract require that any potential shortfall in waste tonnage to the plant be found from other sources. Both parties have obligations in this regard and these have been met.

Yet in the briefing pack for the Transformation and Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee Thursday, 23 September 2010

Additional ongoing costs in respect of backdated claims from the Waste to Energy Plant made late in 2009/10 (£60k) were also an unexpected pressure. A claim was received in June in respect of the City Council failing to achieve minimum tonnage levels in 2009/10 for £645k. This is offset by a rebate circa £0.316m leaving a net pressure of £0.329m. This is subject to legal interpretation and contract negotiation with Hanford Waste Services and the County Council.

It is abundantly clear that regardless of ‘legal interpretation of the contract’ invoices had been received in June, at least 7 or 8 weeks before the date of the FOI response saying that there were no invoices.

Strangely, if you read the WRAP report commissioned by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, there was a meeting held between the council and AEA (the report authors) on 10 January 2008 where there were concerns about available capacity at the incinerator

Currently, the Council employs an incinerator to treat refuse. This facility is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. There maybe some concerns with regard to available head space at the facility due to the high waste growth in the area; but at the results meeting on the 10th January 2008, it was confirmed that there would be sufficient space within the incinerator because the other collection authorities who use the facility are reducing their input due to changes in their collection systems mainly moving to alternate weekly collections of refuse.

Yet in the FOI request

Were members informed of the expected cost, were they merely informed that there may be a charge or were members not alerted to this risk when the enhanced recycling scheme was debated and agreed?

Members were made aware of the possibility that implementing Enhanced Recycling could result in a shortfall in deliveries to the plant in 2007 when the current Waste Strategy was agreed.

Waste Services Officers also made senior managers aware of the risk in a draft report on Enhanced Recycling in to members in 2008.

Just to confuse matters even more if you listen to the Jane Forshaw interview, in particular part two about -3:40 Jane says, when talking about the WRAP report, ‘and it also doesn’t take in to account the fact we have an energy from waste facility on our doorstep’

A little different than what the report says.

It seems that the council do not appear to be accountable to anyone and can get away with making statements with such blatant untruths in them.

We will continue to investigate the enhanced recycling scheme, the costs and the alleged savings over the coming weeks.

Image used under CC licence

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Bad Communications

Yesterday I published an article about how Stoke-on-Trent City Council Press & Communications Team had been nominated for 5 awards in the Good Communication Awards.

As an adopted Stokie, I am quite proud that the City Council gets nominated for these awards, it is very easy to knock the council for anything and everything but also, lets be proud and shout about the good things. Winning an award for communications isn’t going to fix the potholes, but it does show that the City Council are getting some things right, all they need to do is make that happen across the whole council.

That said, today I am going to look at the reality of the communication between this site and them.

You will have no doubt read in a blog post from Potteye about the arrangements that were or were not agreed about how the press were to contact members of the cabinet.

We received an E-mail explaining to us what we should do, Tony and I discussed it and we both felt it was a retrograde step but decided that if all press & media in the city had to do this, then we would follow suit. Part of us thought at the time, it may put us on a more even footing.

We tried to follow protocol and we tried to get official statements or more information out of the Press & Communications Team on a number of occasions, but as you can see with no success.

Mo Chaudry Resigns From NSRP

When we published the story of Mo Chaudry resigning from the NSRP, I mailed both Mo & a member of the Press & Communications Team asking for a statement. Mo responded to me quite quickly to say there was no statement but agreeing to an interview. The Press & Communications team didn’t respond.

Longton To Get £600,000 Make Over

We got sent the press release for the story about Longton getting an investment of £600,000 over 3 years. I mailed the press officer responsible, asking for some more details, such as which buildings were being targeted, as the press release said 30 but didn’t provide any details.
Even though it says at the bottom of the press release “For further media enquiries please call Press Officer Name at Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s PR and Communications department on 01782 …….” we didn’t get any response.

Council Slammed Over Election Coverage

When I wrote the article about how the Council had been singled out by SOTICM for their poor election coverage, I asked the Press & Communications Team for a response to the SOTICM quote, not my article, I expected them to come back quite quickly with something seeing as the quote was made in a national publication which is read by many other councils & government officials around the country. Again I received no response.

Last week I bumped in to Cllr Tom Reynolds, who holds the Press & Communications Portfolio, I had a chat with him about the whole issue that had raised its head at the full council meeting and the subsequent blog from Potteye. I said to Tom, the thing is, the Press & Comms team don’t do you any favours, as they don’t answer many E-mails. I explained that there are some Press Officers who will always respond but others just ignore our requests.

Tom asked me to send him copies of the E-mails which I had not had a response to and promised to chase them up for me.

First thing Monday morning Tom was good to his word and was chasing them for me. Now it shouldn’t take me having to speak to the portfolio holder to get responses, especially when you see what they were.

Mo Chaudry resigns from NSRP. NSRP asked that no comment was made. That is fine I’m happy with that, so why not tell me and I could just add to the bottom of the article, ‘The City Council declined to comment.’?

Longton Make Over They are still identifying & contacting property owners and until this is done, we can’t put the information in to the public domain. Again, perfectly good response if only I didn’t have to chase for it.

Council Election Coverage. E-Comms manager has been asked to investigate before a response is made. That’s fine, we don’t expect the Press & Communications team to know everything, and we understand that they do need to ask other people. We have still not had a response to this so may be the E-Comms manager is still investigating, although I’m not sure what investigation there is to do.

Cllr Reynolds asked that we CC him on any E-mails we send to the Press & Comms Team, in the short term, so that he is kept in the loop.

Although I don’t like the whole CCing someone on any E-mails in order to solicit a response, I have included Tom on the Emails as he requested.

For the record, does CCing the portfolio holder on an E-mail get me a better more timely response?

No.

Take the City Farm Consultation which closes today, I asked a couple of questions about the consultation, when did it start, how was it publisised etc. Nothing to difficult. It only took 29 hours and Tom Reynolds getting involved again, to get the response I needed.

Communication is not difficult, surely it is good and standard practice to respond to any E-mail asking for information, within say 2 hours, with either the information requested or just a simple, I’ve got your E-mail I’m looking in to it for you and will respond as soon as I can?

Saying that communication is not difficult, the new Chief Press Officer started on 7 June and as far as I am aware, the Press & Communications Department have not introduced her to anyone yet. Maybe they are still working out the wording of the press release.

Maybe it is a bit more difficult than I give them credit for.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council Slammed Over Election Coverage

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been slammed for the poor election coverage on its own website during the Local & General Elections in May this year.

In a damming report from SOCITM, who surveyed a number of councils before, during and after the elections, Stoke-on-Trent City Council was singled out by the report authors who said of the council:

Communication of the results was patchy. Stoke on Trent City barely acknowledged that elections were taking place. Even on results day it still only carried an insignificant link to ‘Election notices’. Fortunately this site was an anomaly as by now elections were featuring pretty heavily on most sites

The survey was carried out on 42 council websites in 4 rounds which coincided with key dates over the election period.

  • Round 1- 10 April, the final day to register to vote
  • Round 2 – 4 May, two days before the elections
  • Round 3 – 7 May, election day
  • Round 4 – 8 May, the day after votes had been counted

The survey also looked at the use of social media by each council and finally whether they were taking part in the Open Election Data Project.

In the copy of the report seen by Pits n Pots it does not contain detailed league tables for each council surveyed but does cite good and bad practice with Stoke-on-Trent being used as an example of bad.

Pits n Pots are disappointed that Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been highlighted as an example of bad or poor practice, especially after we attended a Spotlight Review with the Press & Communications Department back in March. The review was to cover a number of items such as, developing a consistant approach to dealing with all media organisations, and use of social media especially to engage with young people.

As part of the review the Press & Communications Department were asked to spend some time speaking to us about how we use social media tools and offer advice on how best to utilise them within the council. The Press & Communications department did not contact us to continue this discussion.

The City Council were also asked by Pits n Pots prior to the election if the council would be taking part in the Open Election Data Project, so that the data would be available in a standard and easy to use format. The Council did not respond until they were contacted a second time where they explained that the Open Election Data Site was blocked, so they didn’t know what it was all about and couldn’t use it. This is despite the fact that the software used by Stoke-on-Trent City Council had been updated by the suppliers to automatically provide the election data in the format required by the Open Election Data Project.

We asked the Council if they would like to provide a quote or statement in response to the quote in the SOCITM report but they have not yet responded.

Underperforming Website Costing The Council Money

According to a recent survey by the Society of Information Technology Management, 21% of people visiting council websites across the country failed to find what they had visited the site for and a further 21% only found part of the information they were looking for.

The survey was carried out on the websites of 120 councils during September 09, during the survey 7.3 million unique visitors visited the websites.

With variations for different types of council like Shire & County, this equates to something like 20,000 unhappy visitors per council per month. If each one of the 20,000 people who were not able to find the information they wanted on a council website then decided to speak to a real person to get the information, assuming that it costs something like £2.50 as an average per call or face to face meeting in a local centre this would cost a staggering £50,000 per month for just one council. If you scale this up to all the councils in the UK that is something like 4.4 million failures that cost £11 million per month to service in other ways.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council was one of the councils that was part of the survey as they subscribe to the SOTICM service. Figures for individual councils have not been released, but I have done some calculations based on the survey findings against the reported visitors to stoke.gov.uk.

The council have not updated their website statistics since August 2009 (So I am now one of the 21%!) so it is impossible to use exact figures but I have used this table to calculate an average number of visitors for the 8 months data supplied for 2009.

This gives me a figure of 124,598 which I have used for this calculation. Looking at the trending of the visitors I think this is possibly a little high but all I have to work on.

Using the survey findings that 21% of visitors to the stoke.gov.uk website in September didn’t find the information they were looking for, means there are 26,166 people who need to be dealt with by other means to satisfy their requests.

If each one of these visitors then turned to a more expensive form of getting the information they wanted (unlikely I know)such as phoning the council or going to a local centre, using the £2.50 notional costing it is costing the city £65,415 each month because the council has such a poor website. If a portfolio holder went to the Council Leader on Monday and said they could save £400,000 I’m sure they would have their hand snapped off. £400k is only about half of what I have estimated the council are wasting over the year.

By investing in a better website the council could not only save money by not having to deal with these extra requests but could move a number of people away from the more expensive means of getting information. These people are people who have probably tired and failed to do things on the council website in the past and now just go directly to the phone or their Local Centre.

The survey also found that the web was the most important channel for customer interaction during the survey period.
70% of customer interactions came from the website
17% came from the telephone
13% from face-to-face

The web is also the least satisfactory channel for customers.
42% of visitors rate it as poor, compared with
21% of face-to-face visitors
And just 2% of callers by phone.

The main reason for dissatisfaction is failure of visitors to find what they are looking for.

While I was researching this piece I found that the website statistics that are being published look a little odd, in December 2008 a reported 79,470 unique users accessed the site yet in January 2009 this had risen by some 72% to 136,794 unique visitors.

I am not entirely sure how the figures are derived but I have asked for clarification.