Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Canal and River Trust does not record complaint outcomes

CRT have confirmed that they don't keep a list of complaint outcomes, (I assume a practise inherited from BW). Following a recent FOI response to the question: 'May I ask what percentage of formal complaints made to Canal Trust are upheld on investigation by yourselves?', we are told:

"... We have considered your request and I am writing to let you know that we do not hold this information. At the first and second levels of our complaints procedure (where we consider complaints, as opposed to the Waterways Ombudsman) we try to resolve complaints rather than judge whether we 'uphold' a complaint; as such we do not record the outcome of a complaint only that it is made."

Hardly surprising then that problems re-occur. From my various rantings in these pages I could have told you that. The repetition and re-occurrence of problems previously reported and even formally complained about, has long convinced me that there is a 'lack of corporate memory' in CRT. Their response to this FOI confirms it.

This state of affairs of course makes a mockery of the complaints process as a whole and undermines any claims that CRT cares for its paying customers and the wider community.

What does this mean for the customer? Here is my personal case study on this point.

Yes, I'm still trying to get maintenance on my moorings back to standard despite a string of complaints including to the Ombudsman going back more than a decade.

The new central moorings team are trying hard, though some things are still ridiculously slow to get resolved. There is no doubt in my mind that they are not allowed spend the money.

The lack of corporate memory undoubtedly also contributes to matters: it came up at a recent site meeting, being held to take outstanding matters forward. It emerged that the current moorings team had no knowledge of the most recent maintenance schedule, previously agreed between myself and my neighbours and the then BW. This was of course compiled under the direct supervision of the then Ombudsman in response to the successful complaint I had made.

Of course the fact that operational staff did not have access to this information led directly to the current complaints - it seems no-one in CRT knew what had been previously agreed with its customers, so inevitably, we were unhappy.

(This of course suggests CRT don't actually keep active records of Ombudsman cases either?)

Another example. One of my neighbours has recently had to complain about the failure to maintain the no mooring restrictions opposite their berth. These restrictions were agreed with the then BW, again around a decade ago, to reduce noise from visiting boats. There is more than half a mile of visitor moorings round the corner from our mooring, not over-looked by anyone.

Despite the then BW agreeing to the quiet zone opposite my neighbours, another neighbour subsequently had to take BW to the Ombudsman about failing to maintain the zone, this time about four years ago. Please note that to do this you have to have go through the complaints process direct with BW/CRT, so they do get a chance to deal with it first. BW were months later instructed by the Ombudsman to reinstate and maintain the arrangement. Only when it got to the Ombudsman stage did BW agree matters had lapsed and not yet been remedied.

So you have to go to the Ombudsman to get them to do something they previously promised; just asking them was not good enough.

Even then BW only completed the works to comply following my writing to the Ombudsman to point out that their recommendation to re-establish all the no mooring signs had not been fully implemented months after it had been sent to BW.

(But we know that BW did not even listen to the Ombudsman and their reports make little odds.)

Anyway back at Kensal Green, despite all this, the arrangement subsequently lapsed yet again. In the last year I have twice asked CRT staff to get the no mooring signs cleaned of graffiti or replaced because boaters were mooring opposite my neighbours, (not surprising given the signs were again unreadable). Despite what had been agreed with the Ombudsman four years ago, to attend to the upkeep, still nothing. So another neighbour who lives opposite the site has now taken it up again after having to endure many weeks of unauthorised moorers running engines and generators.

To be fair the boats have in the last few days moved. Patrol staff were evident at the end of last week. However the existing no mooring signs have still not been replaced or cleaned, though I notice that some preparation has been done, I suspect to paint no mooring signs on the bank edge.

The point is that we should not have to repeatedly complain to CRT to get things that have already been agreed. This is why people like me take promises from CRT with a pinch of salt.

It is also a huge waste of resources in CRT as well as for complainants. It takes time and for many people courage to make a complaint to CRT and not fulfilling promises made in the complaints process is clearly disrespectful.

However it is also totally disrespectful to the frontline staff who on the whole work hard to try to solve problems. How do the people who took the time and trouble to consult on the moorings arrangements ten years ago feel about the events I have described since? Their efforts to be responsive have been undermined by their own organisation's subsequent failings. How must the staff currently dealing with our maintenance issues feel when their own organisation can't provide the necessary information?

One Robin Evans in fact came to visit me at the moorings after my original Ombudsman complaint, he having at the time only just taken up his post as BW CEO, towards the end of the complaint. I against my better judgement I invited him into my home to try to build bridges. My trust was wholly thrown back in my face and it and other subsequent incidents scarred my relationship with Robin and BW for the following decade.

Will Richard Parry, the new CEO be able to change this culture? Once you lose people's trust it takes a long time, if ever, to re-build. That applies to staff as well as to customers like me. Still hoping but not holding my breath.

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