You can’t keep doing more with less - Peterborough Labour leader

Labour group leader Cllr Shaz Nawaz
Labour group leader Cllr Shaz Nawaz
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Leader of the Labour group on Peterborough City Council Cllr Shaz Nawaz:

An old joke I’ve heard goes as follows, “Conservatives say government doesn’t work. They get elected and then prove it.” Look nationally, this appears to be true: anyone who has recently taken a Govia Thameslink train can attest to this.

I am also concerned about what is happening on a local level: I believe that the way we have structured our services is precarious.

Peterborough may have contracted out too much to the private sector; this is not always the way to save money, as Northamptonshire has proven. Peterborough council has also cut back quite far; this is not always the route to efficiency.

An acquaintance of mine recently described her difficulties in trying to order a new rubbish bin from the council. Her first port of call was the Peterborough City Council app. She completed the online form and waited: after a week she was informed that they couldn’t find her house in their system despite its bins having been collected for many years.

Eventually, they found it and said a form would be posted to her: it may take four weeks.

Upon receipt it will be considered by a waste education officer. This will take a further two weeks. In total, it will take around eight weeks; it’s unclear if she will actually receive the bin. This is one case, which in and of itself isn’t necessarily significant: but imagine this multiplied many times across the city and it’s easy to see how our current difficulties with ensuring a tidier Peterborough are made worse.

As a councillor, I have received a number of complaints from constituents about the customer service they receive. The phrase I hear constantly is “pulled pillar to post”. But: my knowledge of the council officers indicates they are dedicated, hardworking, and committed to making our city a better place to live. So where is the disconnect?

When you have willing, positive people yet poor service, you should look at resources and processes. We already know that resources have been scaled back due to the cuts imposed by central government; the mantra of “do more with less” has been with us since 2010.

However, the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in: at some point, doing less with less is the only option. My enquiries suggest that this is part of the problem.

The other part may lay in processes. If you create a complex lattice of private firms delivering public services, there is a tendency for boundaries to be blurred and crossed.

Lines of responsibility can get tangled. Therefore, an individual can ask the council for a service and it may very well be potentially delivered by two different parties. A ping pong effect between these departments may result before it gets sorted.

The Labour Group is committed to a customer-centric approach; after all, it’s what the taxpayers deserve. Furthermore, thinking in this manner is the most likely route to providing the real efficiencies we need.