and read by Anna Earnshaw, Commercial Director, Capita
All is changed, changed utterly, A terrible Barnet is born
Capita 999: Capita is fiddling while Barnet burns
We can't get through.....
To phone the main switchboard of Barnet Council you dial 020 8359 2000. The calls are answered in a Capita call centre in Coventry. A few days after I made the call which is the subject of my last two blogs and now in the middle of an overblown, box-ticking investigation, I had reason to phone the Council again. I needed to get through to the IT support for Councillors extension which was on the contacts of my Capita phone that wasn't working. A bit like when your Broadband goes down and you are told on the phone that you can fix things by going to their website, when your problem is that you can't access the internet. I couldn't conjure up the extension number in my mind though it had been necessary to ring it many times to report one IT problem after another. But you get to the point when the constant problems and breakdowns just wear you down, you can no longer be bothered to spend endless time on reporting, waiting in for someone to come and fix things only for things to break down again. But it got to the stage when it was impossible for me to do any work that involved the Capita Council IT system. So I dialed the main switchboard to get through to the extension and once again met with a service that is not fit for purpose, that is failing the people of Barnet.
The call was answered speedily enough and politely. I asked to be put through to the extension for IT support for Councillors. I gave the names of the two people in the team. The operator said that I needed Information Technology and before I could say another word turned on the music and I waited. I'm afraid after my past experiences I couldn't resist counting how many rings it would take to get through. I wrote down a number for each ring. This is what Capita has driven me to. The phone rang 44 times and then...... the line went dead.
2nd call. The operator picked up after 7 rings and was called Sian or Shaun (by this time I wanted names). I made my request. He said "OK". The line went dead.
3rd call. Answered after 9 rings. The operator, called Tasha, told me: "We haven't got an IT team specifically for Councillors but I'll give you the direct line to the IT general line but we're having problems with our lines at the moment so try in about half an hour and you might get through." She gave me the number 0208 359 3333. That number was unfamiliar. I knew it wasn't the number I usually rang but it might lead to a result so I'd try it.
4th call. I rang straight away to see what would happen and received the message: "You have dialed incorrectly, please try again", ie the Capita enigma code for lines being overloaded or in this case "having problems", and Capita was putting the blame on me! Revelation. If they said all lines were busy it would be their fault.
5th call. I rang again a few minutes later. This was a challenge and I needed IT support for goodness sake. I got through to the recorded message of the "service desk" with options to log a call, check on the status of an existing call, etc. I chose the first just to get through. I succeeded. "Good morning, Barnet Service Desk". The phone went dead!!!!
6th call. Worn down, desperate, angry, but not giving up, having wasted so much of my precious time and unable to do my work on behalf of West Hendon residents because of my IT problems, I waited for half an hour, busying myself to pass the time, and rang the service desk again, a broken woman. The first option was answered by Peter. He knew what both he and I were talking about!! There was, indeed, an IT support line for Councillors. I knew I hadn't made it up. I'd had to ring them often enough! And as soon as he spoke the number I recognized it and rejoiced.
But this experience of Capita's handling of our calls revealed that nothing has been resolved since they first took over the running of the service and they are failing us every day. Their excuses are pathetic. Failures are always blamed on a "temporary problem", but the problems began from the very first day, all recorded on Twitter by those who didn't then realise that the message: "This number is unrecognized" like " you have dialed incorrectly" means that lines are overloaded and phones are not being answered. And nothing has changed.
In his informed, excellent-as-ever blog today that gives the clinical truth via no-nonsense statistics, Mr Reasonable is right to highlight the lack of concern of Tory Councillor for Hendon Ward, Anthony Finn, who is Chairman of the Performance and Contract Management Committee that has the task of monitoring Capita's performance.
Cllr Finn did not want to put Capita's failures regarding phone lines and IT on the Agenda of the first Performance and Contract Management Committee meeting of this administration when everything was already going horribly wrong claiming that it was not urgent. Finn had to be strongly persuaded by the Labour lead on the committee, Cllr Geof Cook before he reluctantly agreed. Capita presented a report of feeble excuses and Councillor Finn summed up with a big smile of satisfaction saying that he was confident having been reassured by Capita that everything would be "hunky dory" in two weeks' time. That's what we're up against.
So I phoned the wonderfully correct number supplied by Peter, was automatically diverted to a mobile, left a message for someone to get in touch and wasn't called back that day! I learned the next day from a colleague that there was someone temporary helping out and I managed to get the mobile number of one of the two excellent permanent staff, who are thankfully left in place following the Capita takeover and got everything sorted out within a day. I have that number now in my personal phone and in several other places, and thank goodness have one less reason to ring a Capita line.
If we were receiving a service like this as individuals, we'd change our suppliers. The Tories have irresponsibly, without caution, tied us and our money into a 10-year contract.
Out of interest there is a generic message that appears on Barnet (now Capita) officers' emails:
"Capita's Local Government business is part of Capita plc, the UK's leading professional and support services organisation. We provide local authorities with specialist support covering revenues and benefits administration, customer services, financial services, training, IT and administration support. To find out more about our business and the full range of services we offer, visit our website.... "
Tempting? My advice and that of others who are now desperately trying and some succeeding to extricate themselves from their Capita contracts is no-oooooooo, don't go there. I will of course be including this example in my litany of complaints when I meet the Capita man in Coventry. He did, after all, tell me on his mobile that my input would be "gold dust". But as they are always claiming to be the experts, I shouldn't have to tell them how to run a call centre. They certainly don't need any tips on how to take as much of our money as possible. Capita is fiddling while Barnet burns.
Coming soon to your nearest blog spot: The dangers of Capita's failures on residents' lives.