Council’s telephone service comes under blistering attack

Exasperated ... Cllr Stephen Catlin (left) and Cllr Graham Mayhew
Exasperated ... Cllr Stephen Catlin (left) and Cllr Graham Mayhew

Local councillors have condemned Lewes District Council’s telephone answering service – describing it as ‘appalling’.

Exasperated Cllr Stephen Catlin and Cllr Graham Mayhew warn of growing public anger at the long delays encountered when using the new automated answering service.

Cllr Catlin said: “It is now two months since Graham and I wrote highlighting the problem with Lewes District Council’s new telephone system. Since then Lib-Dem opposition leader Cllr Sarah Osborne has asked a question in council of the Leader, Andy Smith, but still nothing has been done to remedy the situation.

“As last week’s correspondence in the Sussex Express shows, if anything the situation appears to be even worse.

“Now I’m hearing from colleagues on Eastbourne Borough Council that their constituents are experiencing the same problems, all as a result of the Joint Transformation Programme which has resulted from the amalgamation of services between the two authorities.

“Something needs to be done and soon, or the public will lose all confidence in the council.”

Cllr Mayhew said: “I have twice tried to get hold of people on behalf of constituents who have been unable to get through and I have given up on the phone system altogether. I now just go down to Southover House and speak with whoever is on reception to sort things out.

“This is dreadfully unsatisfactory and is going to get the district council a really bad name. Why is it that I can get through to people on the town and county councils without any difficult when I can’t do the same with Lewes District?

“The new website is little better as it provides absolutely no contact details for anyone – every enquiry has to go on the same general form with no idea of who it is going to or any proof that it has actually been delivered.

“The whole system seems to have been designed to stop people contacting any department directly even if they know who they want to get through to. If this is meant to be an improvement I have to say, it isn’t and a more user-friendly system needs to be put in place as a matter of extreme urgency.”

Cllr Andy Smith, Leader of Lewes District Council, said: Cllr Catlin and Cllr Mayhew have shared very reasonable concerns and they are quite right to raise them.

“I’d like to apologise to anyone who has telephoned in recently and not received the quality customer service we’ve always been known for.

“Council officers are working incredibly hard to implement new systems and bespoke technology that when fully integrated will deliver a transformation in the way all enquiries are managed.

“However, it is the case that the process is taking longer than expected and that is regrettable.

“We have higher call volumes currently due to the annual process of updating the electoral roll, but the situation is being monitored closely and improvements are being made.

“I would also encourage customers to use the council website to get in touch. All enquiries made online are channelled to the appropriate team quickly and efficiently.

“Finally, I’m very grateful for the patience people are showing while this important work to our customer call handling is completed.”