Tuesday, 3 July 2012
Contacting local authorities
There is a worrying trend I have noticed among local authorities of failing to reveal the identities and contact details of senior officers on their websites. Some local authorities do not even name their Chief Executive on their website.
Whilst they would no doubt wish to channel initial contacts with the Council through some kind of sorting system (much as one would process incoming mail through a post room), so as to ensure that emails are forwarded to the right person in the organisation, it effectively prevents legitimate contact with a particular officer when this is reasonably required.
The same problem arises nowadays in contacting individual officers by telephone. They rarely answer their direct dial lines, but have them permanently diverted to their voicemail. But more often than not, you won’t even get that far, but will get some infuriating push-button answering system, until you finally get through to yet another answering machine.
Admittedly it is rather a long time since I worked in local government, but we would certainly not have been allowed to avoid the public in this way. It was drummed into us that we were there to provide a public service, and that included being available on the telephone and taking calls when they were put through.
I have been dealing with one local planning authority recently which has taken non-communication to such extraordinary lengths that, despite repeated emails and telephone calls, I was unable to ascertain whether or not an application I had lodged with them on behalf of a client had been registered. I eventually learnt that it had been when I got a letter from a local builder offering his services to do the building work! After a bit of ferreting about, I was able to extract the bare details from a far from user-friendly website. To this day, I have had no direct communication from the authority, and would be slightly surprised if they meet their target date for determining the application.
And planners wonder why they get criticised by the government and by developers and business organisations!
© MARTIN H GOODALL