Yesterday I attended my corporate induction here at BDO.
To be honest, I was a little bit apprehensive and wondered how relevant the induction to an accountancy firm would be to somebody who works with local government.
I’m pleased to report my fears were unfounded. Yes, the discussion of accounting practices and reporting techniques was a little abstract, but two mentions of ‘public sector’ and ‘local government’ caught my attention.
The first was when a member of BDO’s senior leadership team was discussing different business sectors within the UK. I’m pleased to say that the public sector got a mention. It was highlighted as a business sector of interest and there was some discussion of the financial challenges set out in the last spending review and what they mean for local authorities. Our team have worked with many councils around the country and we continually see some great examples of local leaders thinking creatively to rise to the challenges of balancing the books.
The second, unfortunately, was during a discussion highlighting the importance of good customer service. A local authority was name-dropped as an example of providing poor service, most notably when a resident tried to contact them about council tax payments. From my own personal experience it is something I too have found frustrating. In many cases council tax billing is the only interaction residents have with their authority and yet resolving problems can be fraught with difficulty.
Local authorities do so much good work. When you look at the statistics authorities around the country resurface 5,000 miles of roads, look after 67,000 children and collect millions of bins day in, day out. Yet people remember when things go wrong, rather than when the day to day things go right.
During our discussions we named no end of online retailers, shops or services that just seem to ‘get’ good customer service. But those of us that care about local government should not fear. Local authorities are changing. Many now allow us to tweet, text, email, phone or visit if we need to discuss something with them.
As more local authorities tackle the issues of customer access head on I’m hopeful that they’ll become the regular examples of good customer service our new starters discuss.