Flintshire Council has been asked to retake control of a helpline after it was revealed distressed residents’ calls are being answered 200 miles away.
The local authority currently pays £80,000 a year to Bracknell Forest Council to answer lifeline alarm calls from vulnerable and elderly people in the area, as well as out of hours phone calls, as reported by Deeside.com.
The arrangement was brought to light after the Berkshire-based council raised eyebrows by advertising for a Welsh-speaking emergency response officer to join its Forestcare service.
An opposition councillor in Flintshire is now asking for the phone service to be brought back in-house in order to reduce costs.
Speaking at a scrutiny commitee meeting in Mold today, Cllr George Hardcastle (Ind) said:
“Over the last weekend I’ve dealt with two emergency cases and I phoned up and the people at the other were very good, but they were based in Berkshire, near London.
“These are our emergency people in Flintshire and this particular group are costing £80,000 per year.
“We’re all talking about saving costs, now is there any way of us getting it back in-house?
“At the end of the day we are saving some money and why can’t we do that?”
Prior to the job application being listed, staff at Forestcare had been using a translation service to deal with calls from Welsh speakers.
The social media postings were spotted by national satirical magazine Private Eye which highlighted them in a recent edition.
In response to the cost issue raised by Cllr Hardcastle, Flintshire Council’s cabinet member for housing said the organisation had been appointed to take calls following a procurement exercise.
Cllr Bernie Attridge (Lab) added that the contract presented better value than running the service in house. He said: “The call centre was in Conwy, but we went through a proper process and this was the company that came out.
“I use it quite a lot and I feel I get dealt with quicker and receive a better service now, because I was forever complaining about the other one.
“It’s all about the overheads because to cover it through the night and all weekend, along with the pension costs and everything else for our own people, is why we looked for others to do it.
“I don’t know any local authorities close to us that still do their own out of hours helpline.”
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).