Five-year-old was allowed to walk home from school on own, council complaints report reveals

Scottish Borders Council's headquarters in Newtown.
Scottish Borders Council's headquarters in Newtown.

Scottish Borders Council has vowed to make sure it is dealing with customer complaints in the best way possible, citing as an example its response after it emerged that a primary school pupil was let out of school on her own.

The authority’s executive committee heard on Tuesday that in February a five-year-old pupil had told a supply teacher she was allowed to walk home on her own and didn’t need to wait for her mum to collect her.

She was let out of school by a different door to those children whose parents were waiting to meet them.

The council’s annual complaint-handling report said: “Fortunately, the pupil was found safety waiting outside her house, but the incident raised the fact that the school had no policy regarding letting young children leave the school on their own.

“A written protocol has now been shared with parents and is part of the induction for new staff.”

It is one example of lessons learned as a result of representations from the public.

In another case, a woman whose microchipped dog was picked up as a stray complained that the council had not scanned the animal and contacted her.

She also claimed there is insufficient information regarding stray dogs on the council’s website.

“As a result of the complaint, the website has been updated with more information on who to contact and how much it costs to reclaim dogs,” states the report.

Another woman complained that a memorial tree with a plaque in memory of her daughter had been removed without consultation during works at a council-owned park.

“As a result, the complainant was invited to meet with an officer to discuss a new site for her daughter’s tree and plaque,” said the report.

“The park renovation project team will investigate whether there are any records kept for those given permission to plant memorial trees.”

Members were also told at the meeting that a total of 759 complaints were lodged regarding the council’s performance in the year to March 31, 2017 – up by 11% on the previous year.

However, councillors have been told that of the 563 complaints defined as valid, just 236 were upheld, down from the 251 upheld the year before.

The report, measuring performance against standards set by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, reveals that, for the first time, most of the complaints – 336 – were lodged online, compared to 209 the previous year. Of the other gripes, 236 were submitted by telephone, 84 by email, 61 by letter and 41 in person.

“The increase in invalid complaints suggests we need to review the information offered on-line to support the customer in differentiating between a service request and a complaint,” states the report.

Kelso councillor Simon Mountford, the council’s executive member for transformation and human resources, said: “Generally, we are pleased with our performance, but we can’t be complacent, and it’s important that we constantly review our complaints-handling procedures.

“It’s disappointing when someone feels that our services have fallen below the standards expected of us, but this is an important process as their feedback gives us an opportunity to review and where necessary make improvements to those services.”