31 December 2009

Follow-up on 'Administrative Cruelty'

After my original post on 12th November, I've had an exchange of e-mails with the manager for Customer Services at Wiltshire County Council.

In his initial e-mail, he made a good and acceptable apology and then continued, "we have put measures in place to improve the service for those people, like you, who need to register a death. Salisbury now have a dedicated line for death enquiries which is given priority. This will ensure that Customer Services can help customers to reach the right person much more efficiently. We have also reminded Customer Service staff that, whilst there is a general agreement that calls will be returned in 24 hours (if there is nobody available at the time), in the case of death enquiries, these calls are given priority and will be returned as soon as possible. In the context of your call, it was insensitive to give you the impression that you may have to wait 24 hours as it would have almost certainly been picked up and dealt with immediately. I apologise for this."

I replied that "I think there is still some distance to go to make the process as simple as it once was.

"As a general principle, it’s good to answer the phone immediately but it’s much more important that the right service should be answering the phone. This is particularly important in the case of a death, where emotions can be raised, timescales to organise funerals can be tricky, and the process should be as seamless as possible. If the call centre had actually been able to make the appointment rather than just quiz me to establish what I knew already – that I should register the death at Salisbury – then it would have been the right service. As an alternative, technology-wise, it should be a trivial matter to arrange for the call centre to pick up calls that couldn’t be answered at Salisbury, rather than make all calls pass through the call centre...

"A Customer Services call centre has a role for people that don’t know what to do, or whose relatives didn’t die in hospital. But the bereaved are given a useful booklet at Salisbury District Hospital. It sets out the requirement very clearly. It should have the direct number for the Registration Service. Anything else, any different number, any other mandatory step in the process, is an unfair and insensitive imposition on the bereaved, and not without cost for the council tax payer. I hope that the council will make the process as simple as possible for future customers."

He then responded "I have to say that I totally agree with the points made and I know that the current process is by no means perfect.

"It is a knotty problem to untangle as the previous process of being able to ‘direct dial’ into the Registration team worked well when Customers got through but there were a lot of complaints from customers not being able to get through.

"That said, now that the Registration Team in Salisbury have released another line specifically for death enquiries, it seems to me to be a sensible next step to start making that number available to the public. This is a proposal I am going to put to the Registration Operational Managers. "

I think that's a very fair response, and would like to thank Wiltshire CC for the consideration given to the points I raised. I hope that the right decisions are made - and that I don't have a reason to use the service again. Of course, any feedback is most welcome.

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19 October 2009

Jenson Button and Ross Brawn

Congratulations to Jenson Button and Ross Brawn, and their team, on winning the Formula 1 drivers' and constructors' championships. It was a hell of an achievement, and a great story. I enjoyed this article from The Times.

Another thing that I admired was Ross Brawn - in an interview at his moment of victory, not mentioned in the newspaper - paying tribute to the members of the team who had to leave when it was downsized at the beginning of this year to save costs - but had done so much to develop the cars to a winning design.

Well done, everyone.

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17 September 2009

Southampton Boat Show 2009

Wonderful day at the Southampton Boat Show yesterday. I'd never been to one before, but it was a fascinating day out. I knew that boating and yachting are big industries, and that they make a big contribution to the economy, particularly in the South and West of England. Despite that, I was still gob-smacked by the sheer range of boats, equipment and related goods and services on offer.

All of the big luxury boat suppliers seemed to be there - Sunseeker, Princess, Fairline, to name three - with boats that ranged from the lottery winner's dream up to the billionaire's mini-liner. Even at the smaller end of the market, these are seriously expensive to buy and run. I saw a Princess V62 (if I remember correctly) - beautiful boat, elegant design, tasteful bling-free interior. This has a fuel tank of 3400 litres and a range of some 300 nautical miles. But the price tag was in seven figures. Someone told me that luxury power boats typically cost up to half of their capital cost to run and fuel every year. Over 3000 litres for 300 miles suggests this may not be too much of an exaggeration.

There were huge numbers of yachts, either on dry land or in the water, and we particularly liked the Lagoon 620 catamaran, moored next to the some of the Princess boats: vast internal space in the main cabin - you could play table tennis on a full-sized table in there - and clever use of the hulls for accommodation, galley and so on.

The exhibition halls had masses of chandlery, clothing, advanced electronics, engines - just about anything the boating enthusiast could imagine.

But as a contrast to the bling palaces, the Jubilee Sailing Trust was showing people round the Lord Nelson, a three-masted sails training ship which takes 40 blind and disabled people at a time, with their buddies, on ocean trips. I think you'd learn more about yourself on one of their voyages than on one of the power boats. In fact, the cost of running one of the big luxury boats for a week could pay for a voyage for 40 blind or disabled people. Now, that's worth a thought.

I'm not a boat junkie, and never felt that I needed a boat. Not so sure now - some really impressed me. The show's last day is Sunday 20th September and if you're within reach, it's well worth a visit.

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19 April 2009

EDF Energy AngloWelsh Cup

After the excitement of the semi-finals, the final was one-sided. Gloucester never managed to raise their game in the way that had seen off Ospreys. They never looked as though they would win the collisions. It almost seemed as though the confidence that had allowed them to put extra firepower against Ospreys into the breakdown had evaporated against Cardiff. The half time score was 22-5 to Cardiff, and maybe they'd had one or two lucky breaks to be so far ahead. By the end, the result of 50-12 was fully justified, and they were worthy winners.

What a shame that this competition, in this format, won't be around next year. It's a fantastic opportunity for the best teams of the two countries to test themselves against each other, and to give great entertainment and thrills to their fans.

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01 April 2009

EDFEnergy Anglo-Welsh Cup

I've now finished catching up on recordings of the two semi-finals in this year's Anglo-Welsh Cup. Magnificent! Gloucester beat Ospreys by 17-0, with an 80 metre interception try by Balshaw at the death to seal an intense match. This showed Dean Ryan's coaching and direction of the team at its magnificent best - committing more men to the tackle area and literally blasting Ospreys off the ball. Ospreys, despite the brilliance of their attacking resources, never managed to compete against the sheer commitment shown by Tindall's team.

Northampton stayed in touch but never led against Cardiff Blues in the other match. In the first half, their defence was awesome but they rarely left their own end of the pitch. Cardiff pressure brought a deserved try by scrum half Spice, following an early penalty, to lead 8-0 at half time. Northampton came back strongly after half time with an early try by Ansbro, created by Myler (8-5). Northampton had the lion's share of territory and possession for the remainder of the match, but were unable to break through. A penalty for Blair, with 10 minutes remaining, gave Cardiff a wider margin at 11-5, but the match remained on the knife edge until the last play. It was a strange game, with both kickers misfiring and odd tactical choices made, but the intensity of the physical confrontation was wonderful to watch.

Sadly the future of the competition is undecided - the RFU and Premier Rugby seem unable to agree, and this excellent link with the top Welsh sides could be lost. That would be a shame. At least we still have this year's final to look forward to, on Saturday 18th April at Twickenham.

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11 March 2009

Barclaycard on the ball... and then not

Barclaycard contacted me on Saturday morning (7th) to ask if I'd just done a transaction for £1,000 with a mortgage provider on my business credit card. No! Then did you do £2,000 with an energy utility on Friday? No! What about all the other transactions? One other was fraudulent, a Pay As You Go phone top-up - I don't have a PAYG phone. Top marks for picking up the untypical transactions, two of which weren't what I would consider as suitable items for a business account.

The disclaimer form arrived today - and included a number to which it could be faxed after completion. And guess what - no answer (multiple times), number busy, no answer. Less than top marks for that.

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