Sunderland council accused of ‘accepting failure’ over complaints targets

Sunderland Council.
Sunderland Council.

A councillor has called on city leaders to do more to reduce complaints after claiming current targets are “accepting failure”.

On November 8, Sunderland City Council’s scrutiny co-ordinating committee met to discuss a report on the latest quarterly complaints figures.

Between July and September this year, 37 complaints  were lodged compared to 33 the previous year – with problem areas including occupational therapy and locality teams.

In a discussion on the figures at Sunderland Civic Centre, Coun Darryl Dixon raised concerns about the authority setting “acceptable levels” of complaints per year.

Complaints manager Marie Johnston said that for the size of the council she would expect around 120 to 150 complaints per year.

“There is an expectation of a level of dissatisfaction and it shouldn’t be too low, because then that’s people not telling us what’s wrong, so we don’t get the opportunity to put it right,” she explained.

“But it is also not setting it too high because then we do too many things wrong. It’s a difficult thing but it’s from years of experience.”

Of the 37 complaints for adult and social care, 13 were upheld in full, two were partly upheld, five were not upheld, two were not eligible or withdrawn and 15 remain ongoing.

Some upheld complaints included giving incorrect information, a worker having a “negative attitude,” medication being left unsecured, and failing to provide essential equipment.

Coun Dixon added there should be no  “acceptable levels” of complaints at all and called for council officers to provide more information on actions.

“We should always be striving to reduce the number of complaints rather than setting a number which accepts failure to a certain level,” he said.

“What we should be doing and obviously you do do, is have a look at these complaints and try and re-establish or change the working procedures or programmes in order to see these don’t happen again.

“We still get lots and lots (of complaints) in the same areas which keep coming through.

“I would like to a see a little bit more effort on some of those, especially the more persistent ones, as to how those are going to be reduced.”

Between July and September, 1,389 complaints were lodged for corporate issues – marking a 42% decrease on the same period last year.

While the largest amount of complaints were linked to missed bin collections (1,012)  over the same period, the number was down from 1,606 on April to June 2018.

Marie Johnston added: “This represents a decrease of complaints around that issue of 37% as a result of concerted efforts on the part of workers to deliver bins and caddies to customers.”

Councillors were asked to view the waste figures in context of the service, with the council servicing around 1.6million bin containers every three months.

Chris Binding, Local Democracy Reporting Service