Pits n Pots broke the news last week that the council were to change the housing repair report telephone number from the area STD code 01782 to a non-geographical 0844 number.
Nearly a week later, and we are no closer to understanding the reason for this change.
The council claim that neither themselves, nor Kier are making any money from this change. Indeed it is costing Stoke-on-Trent City Council £400 per month just to have the privilege of having and 0844 number.
This after an initial set up cost of £700, which includes £200 worth of training and some £650 spent on producing 30000 leaflets informing tenants of the change.
£200 worth of training?
What is the training for? Answering the telephones? I guess the council staff would know how to do that already.
I really cannot see why the council would need to implement staff training just for the sake of a phone number change. For the members of staff concerned nothing has changed, the phone rings just the same.
There should be no need for training unless a new phone system [hardware], or a new call handling system [software] has been installed.
In a notice to elected members, the council claim:
As a part of the on-going series of improvements to the Housing Repair Service the City Council is setting up a dedicated team to handle repair requests from our tenants. The team will be working in a location designed for the purpose. They will be able to focus on the task of handling repair requests and managing the communications with the repair operatives across the city. By bringing the essential elements under one roof we will be able to bring further improvements to our customers.
The new service will also have a new dedicated phone number which will be available for our customers to use 24 hours a day seven days a week.
0844 894 0145
The new service and the dedicated phone number will be available for our customers from 8am on February 10 2011.
Calls to the new number will cost approximately 3 pence per minute *from a BT residential line*.
One of the key benefits from the new service will be that calls can be handled quickly minimising the time and costs to our customers. Previous improvements have seen the length of time that customers spend on the telephone reducing steadily. Many repair enquires are now completely dealt with within 4 minutes and the launch of the new service will enable us to make further improvements.
Our free-phone service in One Stop Shops will also continue to operate. Customers can visit during opening hours and use a dedicated phone to contact the repairs service.
Later this year we will be making some improvements to our e-mail and web based reporting facilities which will bring further ways to make it simple and quick to contact the repairs service.
(*Call charges for mobile phones and for other networks will vary)
It is that last line that concerns me and should strike fear into all our elected members:
*Call charges for mobile phones and for other networks will vary*
Those responsible for implementing this change should realise that not all council house tenants have a BT landline, in fact as a councillor representing a large council house tenant estate commented to me yesterday, residents prefer mobile as they struggle to find the money when billed quarterly.
During a conversation with Mike Rawlins last week, the cabinet member with responsibility, Cllr Brian Ward informed him that the majority of callers to the housing repair service use mobile phones.
Another elected member told me yesterday that he had spent 29mins holding for Kier through the 01782 number. From Thursday, if he was calling on an Orange pay as you go mobile phone, that call would have cost him £11.60.
If that call had been made on a Virgin landline service there would have been a connection charge of 12.24p and then 7.13p per minute giving a total of £2.19.
These charges are totally unacceptable to a council tenant who is on benefits and for families where money is scarce.
The council claim that this change will not make money for either them or Kier so why the need to change at all?
I can understand the changes if the council were gaining revenue from this venture, understand that is, but not agree!
This change, if we are to believe what we are being told, will cost the council £400 per month. So why the hell pay out money that you don’t need to in these times of austerity?
This service is being offered to council tenants 24/7 these lines have to be manned, so if there is revenue made by the council from this 0844 number, will it be used to offset the cost incurred by operating 24/7?
Our Chief Executive Officer John van de Laarschot is all
for openness and transparency. Recently I admit that I feel quite sorry for the guy.
He must wonder if a skeleton is going to leap out of every cupboard he opens and shout Boo! Relating to something that happened before he got here.
Well John, this is most definitely on your watch!
Some head of service has made a decision to change a strategic service within the council and then claim that no revenue will be realised from that change. In fact it will incur extra costs to this city council at this time of unprecedented cuts.
I can [because I have] set up a 0844 number at my company for no charge. I certainly did not pay an amount up front and neither is the service costing me every month.
What I do get is a rake off on all incoming calls. This is used to give me a rebate on my monthly phone bills, meaning that I spend less on outgoing calls effectively.
I sense a closing of the ranks on this matter.
There seems reluctance in divulging the true extent of the deal surrounding the decision to implement a 0844 number which will mean a massive increase to the majority of residents who use this service unless you are lucky enough to have a BT landline.
Every 0844 number has a standard number attached to it.
When i received complaints off some customers that it was costing them more than a local rate call because they happened to have a different provider or were using a mobile, I decided to give out the 01782 number. I did this because I did not want to lose my customers business.
I don’t think that this will happen at the City Council, for as much as council tenants are described as customers, they have no alternative provider.
Like it or lump it is the phrase that springs to mind…