Supporting service transformation
The Noise App assisted in improving service performance by modernising evidence gathering, facilitating better engagement with victims, enabling smarter case management, resulting in a reduction in noise complaints by over 35%.
In 2016, a comprehensive corporate review of structures and service delivery arrangements within Bristol City Council recommended the redesign of neighbourhood services to secure targeted savings through a 40% reduction in officer capacity. Responsible for waste management, licensing, pest control, dog and animal issues, contaminated land and noise complaints, the service manager was tasked with overseeing transformation to the revised operating model, delivering the budgeted savings and managing the new team.
The council had upwards of 5,000 'open' noise complaints; these were a combination of ongoing investigations and historic cases, many over a year old, with thousands of associated emails and related communications needing to be filtered and archived.
Although important to retain specialist knowledge and expertise in some areas, following the review, it was decided that team members would have generic skills and capabilities to deal with as many different types of service complaints as possible. Previous processes and performance management arrangements were ineffective and more modern practices were needed. The Noise App quickly became an integral and trusted part of the council’s operating arrangements after it was acquired in February 2018.
The amalgamated teams were reconfigured and upskilled, whilst ‘normal service’ was maintained. All officers received training on the use and operation of The Noise App, including those with no previous experience in dealing with noise problems. The noise complaints procedures were revised to incorporate the submission of noise recordings made via the app. Contact was made with historic complainants who, if still experiencing problems, were invited to utilise the app.
The Noise App submissions were triaged and cases either closed or an early decision taken on appropriate action. Cases involving more serious issues were referred to relevant agencies (police, ASB service, housing team, etc.). The recordings enabled officers to assess and evaluate cases quickly, filtering out those where the alleged disturbance was not unreasonable or the allegation was disproved. Where a problem was suspected, a sharper approach to evidence gathering was developed, combining the collection of The Noise App evidence with officer visits. The Noise App data enabled the profile of the problem to be established and significantly reduced the number of aborted and non-productive officer visits, thus realising a resource saving.
Procedures were introduced to manage the closure of cases. If requested information was not provided, further recordings not supplied, updates not sent through, etc., then the complainant was invited to make and submit recordings for a further two-week period. If nothing was received then the case was closed. If a representation was subsequently made via the corporate complaints procedure, it could be demonstrated that the matter had been dealt with proportionately and reasonably.
"The changes have seen noise complaints reduced by 1,800 per annum (a 35% drop) with 93% of all cases closed within six months.”
-Christopher Swinscoe, Bristol City Council
The required capacity reductions and budget savings were secured. The Noise App remains a key part of an agile and solution-focused culture, where resources are directed on a priority basis. The changes have seen noise complaints reduced to approximately 1,800 per annum (a 35% drop) with 93% of all cases closed within six months. Those remaining are generally the subject of enforcement interventions.
Use of The Noise App has enabled the scaling back of the night-time noise services, securing further savings without compromising the ability to respond to complaints. Noise recordings are submitted via the app and targeted follow-ups programmed as necessary.
While the officers from an environmental health background were familiar with the assessment of noise problems and statutory nuisance powers, it took about nine months for the less experienced officers to gain the necessary understanding and appreciation of how cases needed to be tackled.
Waste management officers, familiar in dealing with tangible issues, found The Noise App recordings invaluable in providing clarity when assessing the nature and extent of the problem.
A key factor is that complainants are asked to confirm ‘what are they hearing’ as opposed to ‘what is recorded’ enabling behavioural issues to be distinguished and a targeted approach pursued. In addition, a ‘side-by-side’ tack has been adopted for anti-social behaviour provisions and statutory nuisance powers, providing officers with the flexibility to select the enforcement remedy best suited to fit the circumstances.
The Noise App case analysis report provides practical support to officers, which enables an overview to be obtained and progress monitored, thus ensuring informed decisions are made. When the officer is unavailable, colleagues can view the complaint, if required, and get an appreciation of the state of play. It also enables peak times for problems to be identified and targeted visits planned to gather additional evidence.
A structured approach needs to be taken to deliver service transformation and continuous improvement, with policies, processes and procedures being regularly reviewed.
Developing an extensive network of contacts and being prepared to explore innovative solutions was pivotal to Bristol CC's success.
Actively engaging and collaborating with the voluntary and charitable sectors can be beneficial in some complex cases.
Getting buy-in from the team is essential in a continually changing environment.
Adopting and embedding smart ways of working and new technologies should not be avoided or put off but embraced.
Suggestions from team members on ways to enhance and improve service delivery are actively encouraged.