Headlines: April 27th, 2005

Liverpool city council has won a prestigious national accolade at the Planning Innovation awards. Liverpool Direct, set up by the authority in1998 as part of its drive to put customers first, has been named the best call-centre in the country.The council says the centre has changed customer services in the city beyond recognition with people now able to contact the council at any time of the day or night on every day of the year. In the seven years since it was opened it has grown from having just 12 staff to employing more than 300 and it is currently handling 50,000 calls per week. It is estimated that for nine out of every ten callers issues are resolved immediately without the person having to be put through to another department.

Liverpool beat-off competition from Birmingham and Glasgow City councils and Kirklees and South Gloucestershire councils to win the award. The judges, who visited the city to see Liverpool Direct in operation, praised the call-centre’s performance and use of technology, which, they said had drastically reduced abandoned calls and improved benefit claims and council tax collection. They were also impressed with the working conditions and development of staff. As well as receiving intensive training when they start work, staff are given the opportunity to gain professional customer service qualifications and NVQs.

Liverpool Direct deals with 55 per cent of council services but there are plans to expand it further, creating a 450-seater call-centre that could deal with 80 per cent of council services. It is already providing call-centre services for other organisations, including a local housing association CDS Housing and it has established racial harassment, domestic violence and homelessness hotlines.

Council Leader Mike Storey said that when he took over the role seven years ago he had been appalled at the way residents were treated. “We set out on a journey to revolutionise the way we served the city’s residents. We established one of the UK’s first council call-centres. It was about putting the customer first and bringing council services closer to our residents. But even we couldn’t have foreseen how quickly it would grow and improve – to become the biggest and best in the country,” he added.The latest award comes following Liverpool Direct being named best local authority call-centre in the Call Centre Association awards at the end of 2004.