A SENIOR Cabinet member has apologised for the way controversial waste and recycling changes were communicated to the public by Pembrokeshire County Council.
The shake-up, involving new recycling bags and containers began last week, sparking a deluge of calls and questions from frustrated residents to the council’s contact centre.
The apology came as councillors discussed long waiting times for residents to get through to speak to customer service staff.
But increased waiting times could not just be blamed on new waste changes, it was argued.
Councillors said the contact centre service has “been on the slide” since 2016 and the unprecedented increase in calls due to recycling changes was an excuse.
At corporate overview and scrutiny on Thursday (November 7) cabinet member for finance Cllr Bob Kilmister apologised for the way communication around the waste changes was handled and admitted mistakes were made.
“Yes, we could have managed the waste management better and we have learned lessons from that,” said Cllr Kilmister, adding “we undercooked that particular exercise.”
The committee heard that 65 percent of calls were to do with waste change queries and that these calls took 25 percent longer in many cases because people wanted the system explained.
The ‘customer service channel shift’ strategy has been paused while the high volume of contacts are dealt with said head of procurement, Paul Ashley-Jones, as he updated members.
December’s election has also led to an increase in calls with more staff being recruited for the new year.
The strategy aims to encourage more people to use the Pembrokeshire County Council website and My Account function for queries, payments and reporting issues.
Ways of dealing with inquiries more efficiently will also be examined, including the five day response period to emails, which often leads to people getting in touch again while they wait and the tendency for officers to ask the contact centre to take a message rather than answering straight away, said Cllr Neil Prior.
The centre is trialing extended opening times, from 8am Monday to Thursday, with calls answered until 6pm, if in the queue before 5pm.
Cllr Jacob Williams said the waste change issues were a “small PR disaster” for the authority, adding that “call waiting times have been on the slide since 2016.”
Cllr Michael Williams added that he’d be “calling for heads to roll” if improvements are not made in the next three months, blaming the cabinet for budget cuts impacting on services.
“This system was creaking well before the waste system,” he added.
This was echoed by Cllr Mike Stoddart, who said: “This isn’t something that has happened these last few weeks, this has been going on for four years.
“The expectation us that the cabinet will manage the budget so core services like this are not cut,” he said.