22nd February 2010

Council Telephone Surveys and E-Panel

On 20th November 2009 a Forum Member sent the following e-mail to Councillors Derek Borthwick and Anne Rey.

“Dear Sirs/Madam,

Last night I received a phone call from a company asking me questions on what I thought about my rubbish collections.

Some questions I would like you answer on the subject.

  • I have my details removed from the electoral register so I don’t get my info sold/passed on to anyone, he told me that the council had given his company my name and phone no: Why were my details given to him?
  • How much am I paying in council tax for this waste of time service from this consultancy. (as soon as I hear the word CONSULTANCY I know it involves a rip off and over priced services)
  • He started asking questions using the 1-5 , are you happy with such and such, a pretty useless system that gets answers you lot want, I put it to him that I couldn't answer the questions like that because it didn't cover my thoughts, the phone then went dead. Surprise, surprise answers too much for this Mickey Mouse survey. Again how much am I paying for this and how many other surveys are you conducting using MY money?”

Councillor Ron Whittaker e-mailed the Consultation and Engagement team as follows:-

20th November 2009


Have received the following e-mail regarding cold calling from a company asking questions about Waste collections etc, more so indicating to ask personal questions on how much one is paying for the collection, not aware of this council paying for such survey, (which i trust we are not), what naturally is not acceptable is the reference to giving ones phone number which as we know the authority cannot do , my advice immediately would put the phone down, but appreciate if someone could answer the points that (Name of Forum Member) has very clearly made please.

Councillor Ron Whittaker

And the Forum member received this response:-

From: Tracy Priestley

Sent: 20 November 2009 16:56

To: Forum Member

Cc: Councillor Anne Rey ; Councillor Derek Borthwick ; Reg Hutton ; Councillor Ronald Whittaker

Subject: RE:

Dear (Forum Member),

Our telephone research agency, Hill Taylor, has confirmed that the call was made by them on behalf of the Council. The agency are a registered data holder for the purposes of market research and buy in contact details from legitimate commercial sources. I have already asked them not to contact you again for any future Council surveys.

However if you have any further queries about the data they hold you are very welcome to contact Barry Wilson at Hill Taylor on 01395 222242 for more information.

The Council conduct this survey every month at a cost of approximately £1000. It covers a number of different services and helps us monitor how well we are performing so that we can improve or adjust our services where necessary. In the past as a direct result of residents’ feedback, this survey has resulted in a new evening cleaning shift being introduced in the Town Centre and new area based teams being brought in to combat fly tipping. Even at a time of reducing budgets, customer feedback remains important as we need to monitor and be aware of the effects of changes in service provision on customers.

I hope this clears things up a little.

Kind Regards,

Tracy Priestley, Consultation and Engagement Manager

Partnerships and Improvement, Bournemouth Borough Council

Subsequent e-mails are reproduced in order:-

From: Councillor Ronald Whittaker

Sent: 20 November 2009 17:58

To: Tracy Priestley ; (Forum Member) ; Pam Donnellan ; Tony Williams

Cc: Councillor Anne Rey ; Councillor Derek Borthwick ; Reg Hutton ; Councillor David Smith ; Councillor Robert Lawton

Subject: RE:


As you know (Forum Member) was very unhappy with the cold-call and especially when the caller it seem put down the phone, you make reference reviewing evening cleaning and shift being introduced into the Town Centre, it does not take £1000 per mouth survey to know what our customers are saying, in fact it was through Councillor David Smith when he took on the portfolio that he took up the issue of securing the changes we see today in the Town Centre.

We have many residents input into the street cleansing matters throughout the Borough, including myself, know Cllr Roger West has made many numerous suggestions, the remaining question is who authorised the releasing individual names and more so Phone numbers from the authority, and on what authority was this done.

We don't need to pay any agency, this information can so easily be collected through the normal channels of the council and through the Bournemouth Journal, i trust that through the portfolio holder who i am emailing in on this matter that this so-called payment is terminated forthwith.

Councillor Ron Whittaker

From: Tracy Priestley

Sent: 23 November 2009 10:03

To: Councillor Ronald Whittaker ; (Forum Member) ; Pam Donnellan ; Tony Williams

Cc: Councillor Anne Rey ; Councillor Derek Borthwick ; Reg Hutton ; Councillor David Smith ; Councillor Robert Lawton

Subject: RE:

Cllr Whittaker,

Just to clear up the issue around releasing names and addresses - the Council did not release (Forum Member’s) name and contact details. The telephone research agency are a registered data holder for the purposes of market research and buy in contact details from legitimate commercial sources. I have asked the agency not to contact (Forum Member) again for Council surveys and supplied (him) with their contact details should he want further information from them about the data they hold.

Kind Regards,


From: Councillor Ronald Whittaker

Sent: 23 November 2009 13:26

To: Tracy Priestley ; (Forum Member) ; Pam Donnellan ; Tony Williams

Cc: Councillor Anne Rey ; Councillor Derek Borthwick ; Reg Hutton ; Councillor David Smith ; Councillor Robert Lawton ; Chris Peachey

Subject: RE:

Tracy, we seem, here to have some contradictions here, the caller told (Forum Member) that the number was given by the council, never the less the main issue is here the payment to an agency at a time members are facing very serious budget pressure as so clearly highlighted in my e-mail, as such we should NOT be paying any monies to support agencies when we have other avenues we could follow without costing the council tax payers, know Councillor Robert Lawton is looking into this matter urgently.

Councillor Ron Whittaker

From: Tracy Priestley

Sent: 26 November 2009 15:05

To: Councillor Ronald Whittaker

Cc: Councillor Anne Rey ; Councillor Derek Borthwick ; Reg Hutton ; Councillor David Smith ; Councillor Robert Lawton ; Pam Donnellan ; Tony Williams ; Councillor Roger West ; Councillor Stephen MacLoughlin

Subject: RE: Telephone Surveys

Dear Councillor Whittaker,

Thank you for your comments about the Council’s customer satisfaction surveys.

As with anything there are pros and cons. The overwhelming benefit of using telephone surveys over other methods is the reliability and representativeness of the feedback as well as the quantitative format which enables service managers to use the data to compare and monitor service performance over time. However as you have pointed out there is a cost attached.

At this time of budget pressures it is quite right to question the value of the various services and activities we engage in and I welcome a debate around what value the Council wishes to place on enabling residents to help shape services. I’ve spent some time putting together the attached briefing note to fully explain the rationale behind our use of telephone surveys for customer satisfaction monitoring purposes. I hope you find it useful.

I’d also like to remind you about our E-Panel which we are currently seeking to develop as a new low cost survey option - see www.bournemouth.gov.uk/epanel. At the moment take up from residents is still very low so any help that Members can offer in promoting it would be much appreciated.

Best Wishes,

Tracy Priestley, Consultation and Engagement Manager

Partnerships and Improvement, Bournemouth Borough Council

Briefing note re customer satisfaction surveys:

Why do we monitor customer satisfaction with services?

The Council’s customer satisfaction monitoring programme (Measuring Up) gives service managers and Members measurable and comparable performance management data based on customers’ satisfaction levels with some of our key services.

The research measures customer satisfaction through a series of ongoing monthly telephone surveys with residents. Managers set specific quarterly performance targets for their services and use the survey results to benchmark and monitor performance against these over time.

How are the results reported?

Results are published quarterly and exception reports are provided to the Cabinet and the relevant Overview and Scrutiny Panels. The full results are also published on the Bournemouth 2026 Consultation Tracker and promoted on the Council’s main website and the Council Information Bulletin (CIB).

What are the outcomes?

Customer satisfaction monitoring gives

  • Service users direct input into shaping services, in a sound and on-going way.
  • Members information on service satisfaction levels and the opportunity to input into the setting of improvement targets.
  • Managers the data they need to determine where resources should be focused and prioritised in terms of service improvement.

In recent years, the Measuring Up programme has contributed to decisions to introduce service improvements such as:

  • Extra staff brought in to deal with drop in satisfaction with ‘time to answer call’ at the contact centre.
  • The introduction of an evening cleansing shift to help combat falling satisfaction with litter in town centre.
  • Area based teams responding on a 12-hour removal target to deal with falling satisfaction with ‘fly tipping’.
  • New staff members recruited and trained to deal with low satisfaction with ‘speed at which calls answered’ in benefits.
  • A £30,000 chewing gum removal programme to improve satisfaction with the service

Which services commission the surveys and how much does it cost?

The following services participate in the Measuring Up programme on an ongoing monthly basis:

  • Benefits (one quarter per annum only)
  • Cleansing and waste customer contact centre
  • Highways maintenance
  • Housing landlord
  • Recycling collection
  • Refuse collection
  • Street cleansing
  • Council communications

The telephone agency’s fee for conducting these ongoing regular surveys is currently approximately £25,000 per year.

Other services also benefit from the Measuring Up surveys by having the opportunity to add extra questions at a more cost effective rate as and when the need arises.

Why use telephone interviews to gather feedback from local people?

Telephone surveys have a very high response rate of approx 80%. This is primarily because the respondent is not required to be pro-active in any way ie does not have to make the effort to go out to a meeting, seek out information, remember to post something etc. A high response rate is a key way of eliminating bias in survey results and thus making the findings more reliable and representative of the wider population.

Other methods of capturing customers’ opinions are less representative of the population e.g. postal surveys only get between 20% and 40% response rates (even with reminders) and tend to get too few responses from younger working residents. The telephone survey methodology not only gets a much higher response rate but also enables the interviewer to work to a quota e.g. for each age group etc to ensure that there is an even spread of people involved.

By using telephone surveys to monitor performance, service managers can be sure that the feedback they are basing their decisions on is reliable and representative of the wider population. Service changes introduced on the basis of ad-hoc customer complaints and feedback alone could in some instances lead us to make a wrong decision or use resources unnecessarily if we do not know how many other customers are of the same view. It could be for example that only a very small number of people feel that way or attach as much importance to the issue.

In the early days of Measuring Up we did try out postal surveys as an option but the number of responses was too low to be of any value to managers.

There is obviously a cost attached to employing a telephone agency to conduct the interviews. The Council minimises the cost by using agency staff only for making the phone calls - all other elements of the survey eg questionnaire design, analysis and reporting are done by the Council’s own Consultation and Engagement team. This saves the Council up to two thirds of the usual commercial rates for telephone surveys.

Why not use Council staff to conduct telephone interviews?

Some people have suggested that money could be saved by using Council contact centre staff to conduct telephone interviews during quieter periods. Whilst this may at first seem like a good idea, the benefits to using a telephone agency over our own staff are:

  • To be comparable over time, interviews need to be conducted at the same time for each phase of the survey. If not, seasonal and other influences may distort the trends that emerge from the data.
  • The industry standard is that at least 75% of your interviews should be conducted in the evenings to ensure that your sample is not overweighted by unemployed, retired people and home makers.
  • Agencies use a specialised CATI system which minimises potential data inputting errors as interviewers input data directly into a tailored programme. Staff would have to use pen and paper and then input the data afterwards into Excel which is time consuming and much more prone to error. Staff would need training in how to ‘code’ answers for data entry.
  • Experienced interviewers know how to field questions which come up all the time. For example: Ethnic monitoring - Why we can’t do this by post etc.
  • Agency staff’s experience makes them better at getting ‘take-up’ and thus a better response rate. This makes the overall results more representative.
  • Respondents don’t always respond in the way we’d like them to ie answer the question we’ve asked. Trained interviewers will persist with the question until it is answered using the scale required. Untrained interviewers tend to interpret the answer (especially as they are not being quality controlled ie. overheard or observed by other professional interviewers) which makes the results unreliable.
  • There is clearly an issue around interviewer bias (albeit unintentional) if staff involved in the service are administering the survey. Even staff not directly involved in the service are more likely to be loyal to the Council as a whole.
  • Telephone agencies are able to co-ordinate and overview calls via their CATI system so that no one individual is called more than once in a six month time period (this is across all surveys and services).

Why can’t we just rely on other types of customer feedback such as contact with Councillors, Area Forums or BH Life?

We welcome feedback from these sources. They can provide us with useful ideas and alert us to areas of potential concern for further investigation. However none of these are an effective means of monitoring service performance in their own right because:

  • You can’t ‘quantify’ this kind of feedback so managers can not use it to track and compare performance over time.
  • It’s much more likely to be people who are dissatisfied who will make the effort to write in, attend a forum or contact their Councillor. Satisfied people have less motivation to so. This doesn’t give us any indication of how many of the wider population are satisfied or dissatisfied.
  • Only a very small proportion of people will ever go to a forum, contact their Councillor or respond to an article in BH Life. We can not be sure how representative the feedback is and whether all groups of residents feel the same unless we do a wider random survey involving greater numbers of people.

From: Councillor Ronald Whittaker

Sent: 01 December 2009 11:22

To: Tracy Priestley

Cc: Councillor Anne Rey ; Councillor Derek Borthwick ; Reg Hutton ; Councillor David Smith ; Councillor Robert Lawton ; Pam Donnellan ; Tony Williams ; Councillor Roger West ; Councillor Stephen MacLoughlin ; Councillor Mark Anderson; Larry Austin; Roger Ball

Subject: RE: Telephone Surveys


First of all thank you for the very detail response, in your previous e-mail you made reference to cost of £1000 per mouth, (presumably that being £12,000 per year)

Your briefing note now make reference to £25,000 per year, a staggering figure for a customer satisfaction survey at a time the Environment@Transport panel has had to go through extremely pains staking budget cuts to meet target reductions, such as reduce recycling teams £25000, WHICH I ADD WAS NOT CARRIED THROUGH AS LARRY AUSTIN HAD ALTERNATIVE PROPOSALS TO CONSIDER HERE, never the less the panel had to carry forward other budget measures such as freezing posts, which itself means struggle to maintain service standards, again review of out of hours standby, including other measures which we were informed although having been carried out could affect street cleaning and have little flexibility at times of pressure. i.e. holidays/ sickness etc.

You make reference in the well prepared notes that a small proportion of people will ever go to a forum or contact a councillor, well sorry, but you have not been it seems to the Muscliff / Throop and Strouden park forums, normally over 100 attending, as a councillor for near 39 years can assure you that have had many comments about cleansing matters and believe most residents do contact their own individual ward members, again must here repeat that it was through Councillor David Smith taking over his portfolio that he made it clear about bring in a night shift system to deal with town centre problems ,likewise the approval of the cabinet papers in October 2007 for a Borough wide Graffiti removal, being i know one of the present administrations key priority in the councils corporate plan, where it had been agreed again with Councillor David Smith to have a restructure into area of base teams.

So again i have to question the value of spending vast sums of monies on agency arrangements when in general mush of what is in place has been brought about through elected members and more so the public make contact regarding street cleansing, waste collection.


Meantime thank you Tracy for the explanation you have given.

Councillor Ron Whittaker

From: Tracy Priestley

Sent: 01 December 2009 12:50

To: Councillor Ronald Whittaker

Cc: Councillor Anne Rey ; Councillor Derek Borthwick ; Reg Hutton ; Councillor David Smith ; Councillor Robert Lawton ; Pam Donnellan ; Tony Williams ; Councillor Roger West ; Councillor Stephen MacLoughlin ; Councillor Mark Anderson ; Larry Austin ; Roger Ball

Subject: RE: Telephone Surveys

Councillor Whittaker,

Just to clear up the confusion regarding costs. The £12,000 relates to the particular survey which technical services is part of. The £25,000 figure is what we spend across all the services regularly involved in the Measuring Up customer satisfaction monitoring programme - they are listed in the briefing note I sent you. In addition to this, other services sometimes commission ad-hoc one-off surveys as and when they have a particular research requirement. I understand Viv Bateman is collating information from across the authority and will be providing you with the total cost as per your Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

I agree with and understand the need to make budget reductions wherever we can. This is the driving force behind the launch of our new E-Panel which should provide a new low cost alternative for conducting residents surveys. I would expect the Council’s expenditure on telephone surveys to reduce significantly once the E-Panel is up and running.

From: Councillor Ronald Whittaker

Sent: 01 December 2009 18:49

To: Tracy Priestley

Cc: Councillor Anne Rey ; Councillor Derek Borthwick ; Reg Hutton ; Councillor David Smit h; Councillor Robert Lawton ; Pam Donnellan ; Tony Williams ; Councillor Roger West ; Councillor Stephen MacLoughlin ; Councillor Mark Anderson ; Larry Austin ; Roger Ball ; Pam Donnellan ; Roger Ball ; Stuart Figini ; Chris Peachey

Subject: RE: Telephone Surveys


Thank you but it is not my intension to keep this correspondence going, have made my views perfectly clear, i don't think this is value for money, more so nor do I think residents or our staff will with all the pressure of budgets at present.

Interesting this afternoon talking to students from the university, they referred to why not invite students to undertake the survey at no cost to the council, said would pass that on, yes appreciate the £12k relates to the particular survey we have been corresponding on, but with a further £13,000 being spent on as you say other services, when looking at that list, think most are covered by members contribution, which is free.

Perhaps the request by the council in this weeks TAKE PART BLOG might general the very questions that the council are paying out to the agency all to be FREE through the echo blog.

Councillor Ron Whittaker

However - an e-mail to Fiona Pendlebury at the Bournemouth Echo states the true cost to be much higher than previously stated:-

From: Carly Earnshaw

To: fiona.pendlebury@bournemouthecho.co.uk

Sent: Friday 04 December 2009 1:59 PM

Subject: Comment on Telephone Survey

Hi Fiona,

Thank you for your enquiry regarding the cost of telephone surveys to obtain customer feedback.

In 2008/09 the Council spent £34,000 on telephone agencies to gather customer feedback across a wide range of council services. Also, we estimate we will spend approximately £32,500 on telephone agencies by the end of the 2009/10 financial year.

Please find below a comment attributed to Councillor Stephen MacLoughlin, Leader of the Council:

“As a local authority providing services to 163,000 residents it is important that we take views into account when making decisions which affect them.

“We have a legal duty to consult and involve local people. One of the most effective ways of doing this is through telephone surveys. They have a very high response rate and are designed to find out residents’ priorities so that we can plan for example, how we allocate resources and improve our services. This survey influenced our decision to introduce an evening cleansing shift in the Town Centre and a new area based team to tackle fly tipping.

“Customer feedback and giving residents the opportunity to influence decisions is important to the council, especially as we deal with the public sector financial squeeze.

This is why we are currently consulting with residents on a range of proposals to save money which may well result in changes to certain services. We encourage everyone to visit our website and have their say - www.bournemouth.gov.uk/budget.”

Residents can visit www.bournemouth.gov.uk/budget to have their say on a range of proposals to save public money. We are also looking for people to join our new E-Panel and take part in e-mail and web-based surveys. Anyone interested in joining our E-Panel and helping shape the future of Bournemouth can find out more on our website.

Kind Regards,

Carly Earnshaw

Media and Communications Officer

Tourism and Corporate Communications

Forum subsequently e-mailed Councillor Stephen MacLoughlin with a series of questions and received the following response:-

Bournemouth Council's e-panel

From: Councillor Stephen MacLoughlin ; Stephen.MacLoughlin@Bournemouth.gov.uk


Please see below the responses from officers to your questions:

Why these highly invasive questions are necessary:

The Council needs to understand who is responding to consultations so that we can identify any differences in opinion between different respondents. In the past we have often identified differences between younger and older respondents, male and female respondents, parents and non-parents. In future, we wish to be able to expand this type of analysis and be able identify if any differences exist between other groups therefore it is necessary to gather information about respondents.

Also, through the Government Equality Legislation, councils will have a commitment to monitor all the strands of equality to ensure that the services we provide are fully inclusive. This improves our performance as a council and ensures we aim to provide the best service to all our residents and visitors.

Finally, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has recommended that we should gather more data on sexual orientation. As this is virtually non-existent in Britain public policy decisions are being made based on assumptions about the size, location, or specific needs of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual population rather than facts.

With regards to the questions being deemed invasive, providing options to declare, for example, disability or sexual orientation supports under-represented groups, recognising them as a normal part of our society. There is also a 'prefer not to say' option for those who do not wish to supply such information.

What are they used for

As mentioned above, the questions are used to help us look for similarities and/or differences between the different groups which exist in Bournemouth. By gathering such information we can get the best possible understanding of residents' priorities. This fullness of understanding should, in turn, help us provide services to the highest possible standard. Having information available to us will enable the Council to discover if there are any significant gaps in satisfaction with services linked to sexual orientation, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, disability or any other aspect, and work towards overcoming them.

Diversity monitoring is also a way of checking whether unfair discrimination is taking place, in order to protect people from it. If we have a better understanding of the make-up of our resident it assists us in analysing areas of policy or their application, that may be presenting difficulties for people, particularly those from under-represented groups. Being able to provide real evidence also helps to make a successful business case for change, where areas of difference or difficulty become evident.

How securely are they stored

The E-panel data is held in a secure, password protected database. This method of storage has been provided by our IT department who have specialist knowledge of holding such information securely.

Who processes them / who has access to them

The information is processed by the Consultation and Engagement Team. This team and the IT team who provided the database are the only people with access to it.

Exactly what Council policies are affected by answers on sexuality and transgender / transexualism

As the E-panel is still being created, it has not yet been used to impact Council policies. However there are instances where residents' sexuality and/or gender may affect the service they receive from us. For example, policies around domestic violence may be different for same-sex couples than heterosexual couples, when placing people in care services or when looking at benefit entitlement there may be a need to consider who should and shouldn't be regarded as a couple and policies on adoption may also need to consider sexuality. Transgender residents may be affected by any council policy which is influenced by the gender of the resident. For example, our registration services conducting either a marriage ceremony or a civil ceremony based on gender and our leisure services may offer gym classes or swimming sessions which are 'ladies' only.

I hope this information helps give a greater understanding of why it is important for us to gather as much information as possible about the people joining our E-panel.

Best Wishes,

Councillor Stephen MacLoughlin

Forum Secretary made the following statement to Forum on 11th February 2010:-

Council Telephone Surveys and E-Panel

On 11th November 2009, a Forum Member was contacted by the research agency Hill Taylor doing a Council Customer Satisfaction Survey despite having requested the Council remove his details from the Electoral Role for such purposes and asking him questions on what he thought about his rubbish collections. When challenged, the researcher put the phone down on him, so the Forum Member asked the Throop and Muscliff Councillors how much he was paying for this and how many other surveys the council is conducting using our money.

Councillor MacLoughlin states the Council has a legal duty to consult and involve local people. This is done through the “Measuring Up” programme and telephone surveys alone have cost more than £66,000 over the last two years. However, the Council is setting up the E-Panel on its website, as a new low cost survey option.

As a good citizen, and your Secretary, I decided to sign up for this, until I saw the registration form. I expected name / address / age / disability / ethnicity questions, but it goes on “What is your religion or belief” and “What is your sexual orientation,” but for bureaucracy gone mad, “Do you identify as transgender or transsexual?

The Council (Consultation and Engagement Team) says under Government Equality Legislation, councils will have a commitment to monitor all the strands of equality to ensure that the services provided are fully inclusive, so I looked up the new questions we will all be asked in next year’s National Census. Despite years of consultation and discussion around the questions, they will NOT be asking if we are transsexual or transgender - so why does our Council discriminate? Please tell me what difference it would make to the consultations that have taken place on for example, the Core Strategy, Dog Bylaws or whether I am satisfied with bin collections, whether I was born Wendy as you see me now, or William, now living as Wendy?

I raised this and other points with Cllr MacLoughlin and you can see the full report on the Forum website. I believe it is time to call a halt - this Council should be thinking about every penny it is spending, not encouraging invasive, bureaucratic empire building or spending £66k on annoying telephone surveys. We have Councillors; we have Forums and more ways than ever before to make our voices heard, so please stop this insidious, creeping invasion of our privacy.

This matter was discussed at Forum on 11th February 2010.

In the meantime, if you have been contacted by this company, please contact info@tmsthareaforum.info or your local Councillor with your comments.