Text Only Version Last Update: Press Releases (22 May 2006)
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Council Services Scandal
Jonathan Barnes, East Anglian Daily Times, 9 June, 2005
STAFF working on a major scheme to improve access to council services in Suffolk have warned of a "full-scale rebellion" against the project.
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Suffolk County Council has joined forces with Mid Suffolk District Council and communications giant BT to pioneer the Customer Services Direct (CSD) project, which aims to give customers easy access to council services, such as paying bills and reporting problems.
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But a group of county council staff have contacted the EADT to complain that the scheme has "thrown the organisation into turmoil" and is proving to be an "expensive disaster".
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The 300million, 10-year partnership providing telephone, face-to-face and web-based services was set up with the hope of bringing other district and borough councils on board.
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But, nearly two years after the scheme was first unveiled, no other councils have signed up to CSD with one insisting yesterday it had "no interest" in the project.
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Last night, one of the county's MPs pledged to write to the chief executives of Suffolk County Council and Mid Suffolk District Council to ensure the project was providing value for money.
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Bosses behind the CSD scheme have defended the project, claiming it is improving customer service at no extra cost to council taxpayers.
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The money is being found through efficiency savings on existing budgets.
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The council staff, who asked not to be named, complained about the progress of the project and said some staff were unhappy at being seconded to the CSD scheme.
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They also raised concerns about the costs of high-level appointments, consultants' fees and adapting software for CSD use. About 300 staff are thought to have been seconded to the CSD project.
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"In reality this project is throwing the organisation into turmoil, with a devastating effect on the authority," they said
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"We envisage a full-scale rebellion in the forthcoming months, with many employees reviewing their options.
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"We believe that this situation is being likely to develop into an expensive disaster."
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The EADT has raised a number of concerns about the CSD project with the county council.
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Last night, David Ruffley, the Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, said he would be looking into the matter.
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"I will be writing to the chief executives of the county and district councils to have their assessment of what is going on and ask them how much money has been saved by these new services," he added.
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"There is no point having glossy new initiatives if they are not value for money. If this is a costly mistake, then council taxpayers will want to know."
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CSD opened its first call centre, in Stowmarket, in November, and bosses said it had been "a great success".
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They said nearly 14,000 people had visited the centre, and it had taken 21,500 telephone calls. New centres are due to open in Needham Market and Eye this year.
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Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County Council, said: "CSD is already bringing benefits to the people of Suffolk.
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"It is improving access to customer service and providing the level of service people expect.
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"We aim to develop the partnership to deliver more efficiencies in the future to benefit Suffolk's taxpayers."
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Roger Saunders, leader of Mid Suffolk District Council, said: "This unique partnership puts the customer first.
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"It strengthens the public service ethos by providing the technology, systems and training to deliver the right services to the right place at the right time. It is the right way forward."
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But other district and borough councils failed to offer support for the scheme yesterday, many saying they were in the process of undertaking their own customer service reviews.
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Waveney District Council said it was "not interested" in the scheme while Suffolk Coastal District Council added it was not in a relationship with the CSD partners. "We have not made a decision about which delivery route we are going to go down. There's no impending commitment to sign up."
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Babergh District Council said it was looking into a "range of options" to improve customers services and St Edmundsbury Borough Council said it would consider partnerships with the county council and other districts in its own review.
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Forest Heath District Council said the CSD project was "not something we are currently discussing" while Ipswich Borough Council is pushing ahead with its own customer service centre, earmarked for the Town Hall.
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A spokesman said it was also looking at possible joint initiatives with other local authorities.
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