When’s A Workman Not A Workman?

Pits n pots have been contacted by a concerned resident who wanted to highlight an issue they had seen with a Kier employee. Kier Stoke are the company formed as a joint venture between Stoke-on-Trent City Council and construction and support services specialist Kier Building Maintenance to take on the repairs to Stoke-on-Trent City Council housing stock in 2008.

I was going shopping on Friday in the north of the city, I went to the pay and display meter to get a ticket, while I was getting some change a Kier workman came out of a pub near the meter on his telephone. He was in his work clothes with the Kier badge on them and saying to the person on the phone that he was still on a job and wouldn’t be able to take the job they were trying to give him. Once the call had finished he went back in to the pub.

Kier Stoke seem to be going through some turbulent times at the moment. Chief Executive John van de Laarshot brought Vanguard, a ‘systems thinking’ consultancy, in to look at ways that the City Council could work smarter and save money. The first place he sent them was in to the housing directorate to look at the contract with Kier and how to provide quicker, better and more cost effective services to council tenants.

A suggestion, if I may be so bold, might be to know where your employees really are when they tell you they are still on the last job you gave them.

0844 Number For Reporting Repairs Goes Live

Council tenants with housing maintenance repair enquiries are set to have their calls answered more swiftly with the launch of a new telephone line this week.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council will operate a new service, available for customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The new number is 0844 894 0145, and it will be launched at 8am on Thursday February 10, 2011. It will replace the existing 01782 234100 number.

We are always looking at ways we can improve the service to tenants. We have 19,300 council houses, and they generate many maintenance enquiries from our residents.

The new number will vastly increase our ability to handle enquiries, it will help to reduce the length of time calls take to be answered, and keep costs to a minimum for customers.

Calls to the new number will be handled by a dedicated team who will manage the communications with repair workers across the city. They will all operate from the same office, which will help to improve the service experience for customers.

Calls to the new number from a BT landline are generally much cheaper than the old number. For example, tenants with a basic calling plan, which is available to those residents in receipt of benefits, can call the new number for 3p for the call set up charge, and then 3p a minute. The old number costs 3p for the call set up charge and then 10.2p a minute. Similarly, customers using a BT landline unlimited weekend calling plan will be charged 11.5p for the call set up charge and 3p a minute. The old number would costs 11.5p for the call set up charge and 7p a minute. Tariffs for other providers and mobile phone operators vary, and in some cases may be more expensive, depending on the provider.

We have worked hard to make sure that call charges for customers are as low as possible. With 0844 numbers, we had the option of adding our own tariff to the call charge, but we turned this down in order to keep costs to a minimum. The new number will also help reduce the time it takes for tenants’ calls to be answered, so this will help to keep costs down.

There are such a lot of phone providers that charge different tariffs, so I’d advise tenants to check with their phone operator if they want to see what their individual call charges are.

I will be talking to council officers to monitor the situation to find out that we are using the best available phone system that doesn’t disadvantage people.

Our freephone service will also continue to operate ““ customers can visit any of our one-stop shops or local centres throughout the city and use a dedicated phone to contact the repairs service free of charge.

We will also be making improvements to our email and web-based reporting facilities this year, which will further help to make it simple and quick to contact the repairs service.

Council house repairs will continue to be made by contractor Kier Stoke, which last month rolled out a pilot scheme to improve the time it takes to make repairs to the whole of the city.

A groundbreaking pilot launched last August and focused on 6,000 properties in the central area of the city. It saw joined up working by workmen improve efficiencies and reduce the time it took for residents’ queries to be responded to. For example, workmen were able to respond to a call for a leaky tap, broken gate or faulty boiler, and then look into any other issues the tenant may have had, taking appropriate steps to address them from the initial point of contact, where necessary. This has cut down on travel time, reduced inefficiencies in programming in work and improved the experience for customers.

The pilot also saw the length of time that customers spent on the telephone reduce steadily, due to council call handlers working out of the same office as workmen and improving efficiencies. Many repair calls are now completely dealt with within four minutes and the launch of the new number will help further improvements be made.

Our staff have been working exceptionally hard to drive down waiting times and delays for customers and drive up improvements to the service they receive.

The new number will mean more calls can be handled and help cut the time tenants have to spend on the phone. The pilot scheme has generated many compliments from tenants, and we will work hard to ensure the city-wide roll-out of the service runs as smoothly as possible. With such a large area to cover and so many properties to include, we ask tenants to bear with us while the changes take effect.

No To 0844!

Download our No To 0844 poster and show the City Council that you don’t want to pay between 3 & 40+ppm to report repairs.

Display it in your window, write a note to your local councillors or the Chief Executive John van de Laarschot on the back, take it to the next council meeting and wave it from the public gallery.

Show YOUR council that they should be working for you and you don’t want to have to call this number at more cost to you each time you need to book a repair or find out why an appointment has been missed.

If the information we have been given and published in other posts is correct, why at a time of unprecedented cuts are the council spending £400 a month to cost you more money to call them?

This is a lose lose situation.

Tenants’ Information and Fun Day

Stoke-on-Trnet City Council tenants are being invited to an Information & Fun Day between 10am & 3pm at Staffordshire University this Sunday (3 October)

It is a joint event organised by Stoke-on-Trent City Council Housing Services and Kier Stoke.

It’s a great opportunity to meet the staff and to find out more about housing services and making the most of where you live. the event is free and should be a fun day out for all the family.

Food and free parking is provided.

Stoke ‘On’ Call Centre – The Facts!

At a recent Improving Communities Scrutiny Committee, councillors questioned the progress of the intervention of the consultants Vanguard into our Council House Repairs Service, delivered by Kier.

Our officers proclaim the great success so far of the pilot scheme with little concrete evidence to show for their efforts.

I have every reason to believe that the work being done will eventually lead to improvements in the services as well as better value for money.

However, the current “pilot” scheme evidence shows a devastating collapse of some services such as the call centre, and the rapid exhaustion of annual budgets within 6 months. To me this is a gross mismanagement of the transition arrangements, where current services levels should, at the very least, be maintained.

I think even I could claim an improvement of a services for the first six months if I spent 12 months worth of funding in just 6 months!

Take our call centre for an example ““ the number was unobtainable again on Monday 20 September 2010 (is this how you reduce the number of unanswered calls in the system).

“Cllr Barnes, there is nobody here to take the calls”

All this after the councillors almost unanimously called for urgent action to be taken to restore this important front line service ““ apparently ignored.

The latest figures released speak for themselves:

The combined contact centre performance figures:
Total Number of Calls Offered 16,676

Total Number of Calls Connected to an advisor 11,813

Percentage of Calls Answered 70.8%

Average wait to be connected to an advisor 151 Seconds

Percentage of Calls answered within 20 seconds 30.21%

Contact Centre Performance per main service area:

To provide more detailed information on how the contact centre is performing, please see below performance information for the main service area’s delivered within the contact centre:-

Total Number of Calls Offered 4,884

Total Number of Calls Connected to an advisor 3,226

Percentage of Calls Answered 66.1%

Average wait to be connected to an advisor 283 seconds

Percentage of Calls answered within 20 seconds 27.15%

Total Number of Calls Offered 3,584

Total Number of Calls Connected to an advisor 1,548

Percentage of Calls Answered 43.2%

Average wait to be connected to an advisor 974 seconds

Percentage of Calls answered within 20 seconds 11.61%

Total Number of Calls Offered 4,003

Total Number of Calls Connected to an advisor 3,351

Percentage of Calls Answered 83.7%

Average wait to be connected to an advisor 108 seconds

Percentage of Calls answered within 20 seconds 41.47%

Total Number of Calls Offered 1,684

Total Number of Calls Connected to an advisor 1,538

Percentage of Calls Answered 91.3%

Average wait to be connected to an advisor 130 seconds

Percentage of Calls answered within 20 seconds 37.59%

Total Number of Calls Offered 1,580

Total Number of Calls Connected to an advisor 1,383

Percentage of Calls Answered 87.5%

Average wait to be connected to an advisor 171 seconds

Percentage of Calls answered within 20 seconds 28.80%

Total Number of Calls Offered 941

Total Number of Calls Connected to an advisor 767

Percentage of Calls Answered 81.5%

Average wait to be connected to an advisor 89 seconds

Percentage of Calls answered within 20 seconds 58.24%

The most significant figures in this list are the housing repairs stats.

“Percentage of calls answered 43.2%” – Less than 1 in every 2 calls is answered let alone resolved.

“Average wait to be connected” for the lucky one who did get an answer ““ “974 seconds” ““ that’s nearly 16 and a half minutes!

So this is what our council promotes as improvements ““ god help us if we came across their version of failure!

Our Chief Executive Laarschott, defended the call centre problems by saying that things were so successful that the number of calls had gone up. Really? Well guess what John ““
I asked for all of the weekly figures for the last 6 months and what a surprise I got.

What these figures actually show is that six months ago we were receiving 3000 calls a week more than we do now (19000) and our performance was considerably better with this higher call level! (80%)

So lets cut all the bullshit and get real and start to work together to acknowledge the problems and resolve them instead of trying to conceal them with spin and grandiose claims.

I certainly am not happy with the level of service from our contact centre, and if it doesn’t improve very very soon, I will be asking my colleagues in Community Voice, to call an emergency council meeting to get to the bottom of this matter once and for all.

48 Stoke-on-Trent Bungalows Saving Money On Heating Bills

Residents in 48 Stoke-on-Trent bungalows are saving money on their heating bills after taking advantage of a fuel switching scheme.

The initiative, supported by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and National Grid, has seen electric storage heating systems replaced by more efficient gas central heating in council properties on Kirkup Walk, Longton. It is estimated to save tenants around £200 a year on their fuel bills and reduce their carbon emissions by around one tonne a year.

The £240,000 scheme was funded by National Grid Affordable Warmth Solutions with support from the city council, and work from housing maintenance company Kier Stoke and fuel poverty charity Beat the Cold.

Jeremy Nesbitt, Managing Director, National Grid Affordable Warmth Solutions commented ‘we are delighted to build on the success of the Kirkup Walk scheme and looking forward to working with Stoke City Council on the development of future schemes. We are committed to working with forward looking councils on schemes that address some of the causes of fuel poverty.’

The work is part of the city council’s Affordable Warmth Strategy, which identified as priorities the need to improve energy efficiency and reduce housing carbon-related emissions in older properties that don’t have cavity walls and are not on the gas mains network.

To build on the success of the fuel switching scheme, the city council and National Grid are working together to expand the service to 1,000 further council bungalows in the city over the next three years.

The replacement fuel systems will help reduce the risk of fuel poverty ““ where residents spend more than 10 per cent of their income on energy costs ““ and will also reduce the chances of cold-related ill health.
Michael Thorley, 63, of Kirkup Walk, Longton, has lived in his bungalow for a year. His heating system was completely replaced last summer. He said, ‘All of my old electric storage radiators were taken out and a complete new gas central heating system was put in. It is brilliant, I have a radiator in every room and it was so good to have over the winter months. I can now programme my heating to 18 degrees, so that it comes on before I get up, and it only takes a couple of minutes to warm up. If I had my old storage heaters on during the day, they would lose their charge by the evening, and didn’t heat my home very well. This new system is saving me money because it is so economical.’

Head of housing services Val Bourne said, ‘We want to ensure as many of our residents as possible are able to take advantage of efficient, affordable heating. The scheme in Longton took place over five months, and saw heating systems totally replaced and connected to the new gas infrastructure.

We have provided loft and cavity wall insulation in council homes and are committed to raising the quality of our council accommodation.’

The authority has commissioned Beat the Cold and home insulation scheme North Staffordshire Warm Zone to provide energy efficiency advice to council tenants receiving the new gas central heating systems.

Blurton gets a reprieve – finally

A run-down retail block in one of Stoke’s forgotten communities is about to be rejuvenated in a £7 million project.

Ingestre Square, in the back streets of Blurton, has been allowed to decline into disrepair over a span of years, and has been awaiting redevelopment promised for the last ten years.

Now, finally, Kier Group (the contractor responsible for maintaining Stoke’s social housing) Aspire Housing and the city council are clubbing together to regenerate the plot, with plans for new shops, a community centre and over forty homes.

The dilapidated square is situated off Trentham Road, near to Blurton High School, which is also getting ready for a much-needed, but divisive, revamp, more accurately, rebuild, if plans to erect a new Academy go ahead.

Whether Labour’s flagship school programme is the right thing for this community is (or should be) up to the parents, staff and pupils to decide, but what is for sure is, this investment in Blurton is more than welcome.

Several years ago I did some vox-pop interviews with locals in Blurton around election time and none of them could give a hoot about who was likely to get in at the local ballot. They had long ago given up on wishing for anything more than their lot in life in a community stricken by the loss of the coal and pots industries it once relied on to provide its population with work.

It had already become a locality full of disillusioned residents, and the kind of social problems that exists there is no coincidence (type in the neighbouring Finstock Avenue into a search and see how many stories of crime and disorder have taken place there, or go and take a look for yourself). But a lack of investment and a seeming lack of regard for the area has meant that if anything, it has got worse.

This is a quick-win which will hardly transform the area of Blurton into a prosperous neighbourhood overnight, but it’s certainly a good start, and not before time. For the regeneration of Stoke-on-Trent is about making life better for the people that already live here, not about knocking down rows of houses to attract new more affluent people, or only about redesigning town centres to show off to visiting shopaholics. Starting at grass roots and helping make things better for people who have for too long been forgotten, is one of the keys to making these regeneration funds do exactly what they say on the tin.

Kier Stoke completes work on new animal houses at City Farm

By Tony Walley. The animals at City Farm at Bucknall Park have two new homes thanks to work done by Kier Stoke. The two new buildings will house some of the farm’s goats and ferrets, as well as a new aviary.By Tony Walley.

The animals at City Farm at Bucknall Park have two new homes thanks to work done by Kier Stoke.

The two new buildings will house some of the farm’s goats and ferrets, as well as a new aviary. Each of the new animal houses will have Perspex panels built in so visitors can see inside. Two apprentices from Kier Stoke, Ashley Timmis and Gareth Jones, spent two weeks working on the new buildings, and will be at the City Farm on Monday 27 July to officially open the new buildings. Ashley said: “It is good to see Kier helping out the local community, and I was happy to be part of the project.” Gareth added: “The public will enjoy this for many years to come.” Derek Capey Councillor Derek Capey, cabinet member for sport and leisure said: “We needed new homes for some of the animals and Kier offered to do the work for us. “Ashley and Gareth have both worked really hard on the project and gained some valuable experience. “Kier are providing the city with a new generation of skilled workers and it’s great to see them making such a positive impact at an early stage of their careers.”

Companies with Stoke contracts in illegal blacklist scandal

By Tony Walley

Last week a national newspaper reported on the activities of a Worcestershire company which has been collecting and selling information to a range of construction companies about workers that were regarded as being “trouble makers”. The database that contained over 3,000 names of people who had a history of trade union membership or who had raised concerns about health and safety on building sites had been maintained.

Companies paid the company £3,000 a year and then a fixed fee on each name they wanted to check up on. Details of workers’ employment history and trade union activity were written on cards. This entirely covert operation helped building companies vet new employees.
This process is illegal  and a serious breach of the Data Protection Act and is a system that has effectively blacklisted workers preventing many from employment opportunities.
Amongst the names listed in the Guardian newspaper were a number of companies that have major contracts with North Staffordshire public bodies
  • Balfour Beatty has a contract with the City Council to rebuild local schools. It is one of five bidders which have been short-listed for a transformational £250 million partnership which will help kick-start the development of Stoke-on-Trent city-centre business district.
  • Laing O Rourke has a major contract rebuilding the University Hospital of North Staffs.
  • Carillion which built and maintains a number of new psychiatric hospitals in North Staffordshire.
  • Kier Group which 12 months ago took over the responsibility of maintaining the city council housing stock  in a £400 million deal.

Green Party Logo

Green Party candidate in the Leek East by-election, Bill Cawley said:

” This is shocking that companies that have received large amonts of public money to build new schools and hospital units in the area should have acted in this way. Trade Unionists and many who raised concerns about safety have been treated shabbily and many denied work opportunities. One man an electician had only 36 weeks employment in the last nine years simply because he was a trade union activist. How can an area with a strong Labour tradition allow this situation to continue? It is appalling that a number of companies have been involved in hospital projects especially as on average nationally two workers are killed on construction sites per week”