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Dale’s Diary: 大伯明翰地区 Albert tells Chinese about Da Bominghan Di Qu

Dale’s Diary: 大伯明翰地区 Albert tells Chinese about Da Bominghan Di Qu

🕔14.Jul 2015

The leader of Birmingham city council is taking no risks with the Chinese when it comes to the largely meaningless West Midlands moniker, I hear.

Sir Albert Bore was by all accounts in fine form at a lavish Warwick Castle bash to mark the first Hainan Airlines direct flight to Birmingham Airport and made a point of repeatedly referring to the advantages and opportunities that good links to China will create for ‘Greater Birmingham’.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin was present along with senior Chinese Embassy staff to listen to Albert’s highly nuanced attempt at competitive positioning, which is the council’s right-on buzz phrase for differentiating between West Midlands, as an instrument of governance and name of the new combined authority, and Greater Birmingham, as a geographical and economic area that investors can actually relate to.

It is unclear whether the Black Country councils and Coventry council are on board with competitive positioning, since the naming of the combined authority as West Midlands rather than Greater Birmingham turned out to be a demand upon which there could be no compromise.

Still, it’s all about marketing as Birmingham council chief executive Mark Rogers has insisted, and I’m sure Sandwell Council leader Darren Cooper, chair of the Black Country councils, will understand. Not least as it is officially #BlackCountryDay.

My man at the back of the room reports that the Warwick Castle audience were most appreciative of Sir Albert’s Greater Birmingham love-in. And for future reference competitive positioning spotters should watch out for the characters  大伯明翰地区  and the expression “Da Bominghan Di Qu” in any future addresses to Chinese visitors, which I am informed is how you write and say Greater Birmingham in Mandarin.

It’s always been something of a mystery how, when Capita ran Birmingham city council’s call centre, customer satisfaction levels were recorded at about 97 per cent. No idea what happened to the three per cent of dissatisfied customers, but they were probably tracked down and re-educated.

Councillors were suspicious about the claimed spectacular success rate because their postbags were filled week in week out with complaints about poor service with callers kept waiting, complaints not dealt with or passed from pillar to post and housing repair jobs simply ignored.

Yet Capita-run Service Birmingham was consistently able to demonstrate satisfaction levels of almost 100 per cent, way above the contractual target of 85 per cent.

Something didn’t add up, clearly. As a report to the corporate resources scrutiny committee laconically puts it: “Anecdotal feedback from citizens suggested otherwise.”

A few months before taking the contact centre back in-house last year, the council imposed a rather more rigorous customer satisfaction analysis through independent monitors InsightNow after discovering that Capita-run Service Birmingham operators were allowed to select which customers to submit an end of call survey to.

You’d like to think the selection process was above board and that unhappy callers were sent the survey as well as those whose queries had been dealt with efficiently.

But the new customer satisfaction survey, based on sending SMS and emails to callers, came up with some startling differences. The results throughout March and April 2014 showed a 49.4 per cent satisfaction with Contact Centre services and 43.2 per cent satisfaction with the end-to-end service. Service Birmingham’s reported performance for February had been 97 per cent.

Labour’s stance on devolution is all over the place at the moment and it’s far from clear whether anything said by the candidates for leader will ever make it to official party policy.

But here’s a fascinating idea from Yvette Cooper – give combined authorities full control over education.

Cooper has backed an idea being worked up by Greater Manchester to appoint a schools commissioner – answerable to the region’s mayor – to be responsible for driving up standards.

She told the Manchester Evening News:

I would go further than the Government is doing because at the moment they’re just talking about adult skills.

What about 14 to 19-year-olds, what about education? Why is education being centralised when so many more things are supposed to be devolved?

Education and skills should be at the heart of what Manchester can then take forward.

Birmingham of course already has a schools commissioner in the shape of Sir Mike Tomlinson. But Greater Birmingham, sorry West Midlands, does not have a mayor. Yet.

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