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The curse of the website, the answerphone and the hidden face of bureaucracy

November 24, 2018 6:25 AM
By Nick Eden-Green

I've had a rotten week trying and failing to sort out a problem for some of my residents. It's been rotten because I've failed. But it's been much, much more rotten for them because it involves rats. Lots of them. In bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, all over the house.

As soon as I heard about it on Monday I rang the council. I went through the rigmarole of which department I wanted, waited for 5 minutes listening to the music, being told to use the website, and I finally gave up.

I tried a second time and was put through to East Kent Housing. Went through their options rigmarole, none of which was relevant, and got no reply anyway.

Went back to the council switchboard. Yes another 5 minutes while I wasn't answered, same old music. Gave up again.

Rang a helpful officer at the council on her direct line and she looked up the direct line of the officer in East Kent Housing I needed to speak to.

Rang her. She was 'away from her desk'. Left an answerphone message with the details of the problem and my home number asking her to ring me back. The answerphone also advised me to ring the number with the irrelevant options that nobody replies to anyway.

I then emailed the Chief Executive to point out that if I, as a councillor, couldn't get through, how could the average resident. After all, the council only exists to provide services to its residents. Got a message back that he would look into it.

By close of play on Friday absolutely nothing. No action on the rats. No reply on anything. A whole week and I've failed. I have several families with young children facing a rat problem. The council has its own properties being damaged by rats because it is taking no action.

Of course, because I haven't been able to speak to anyone this will never get logged as a complaint. Answerphones, switchboards with music, websites and simply not replying ensures the organisation gets off scot free. Sadly this sort of thing happens with other public services too.

Frankly, the police are not a lot better. The last 999 call I made, about a fight, produced precisely no action (although at least I did get through the switchboard!) There was something in the paper this week about nightclubs calling the police out far less often. On the face of it good news, except they still average over 2 call outs a week. Any other organisation ought to have to pay for that level of policing. Football clubs do. But the clubs use door staff to avoid calling the police. It makes the statistics look better even if it doesn't do anything about the problems.

Bingo! That's the answer. Massage the statistics.

With local elections looming we have a Momentum led Labour Party preaching the about the sunny uplands of the public sector and the evils of privatisation. The Conservatives preach the reverse. As a Lib Dem I'd much rather have properly funded public services but, whether public or private, I actually want services that work. I want phones answered. I want paid employees to be responsible. I want answers to be given. I want action to be taken. Is that really too much to ask?

The rats are better organised and still, sadly, reign supreme.