October 2018 statement from Councillor Daren Pemberton, Planning & Building Services Portfolio
"Concern has rightly been raised by some residents on social media about the performance of the Land Charges service at Stratford-on-Avon District Council, following a recent article naming us as the worst performing council in England based on an oldest outstanding search of 95 working days at that time.
Unfortunately, the council's response statement, which would have clarified the position and highlighted the corrective actions and investment already made to solve the issue, was omitted from the article. This has given the erroneous impression that Stratford-on-Avon District Council is unaware of or does not care about providing a good service. Nothing could be further from the truth, and this is not where we want to be as an authority.
Earlier this year I announced an investment of £315,000 in a new IT system for the service, which has also had an additional staff member recruited. Without this investment we are unable to meet the service standard of 10 working days. The current antiquated paper-based system is unable to meet the demands now placed upon it. That project has been under way for some months and the new system goes live later this year. This is the solution to the problem and there is no further ‘shortcut' that will deliver a speedier change. I regret that decisions not to invest in this service by previous administrations some years ago have had a negative impact on service delivery, notwithstanding the hard work of that team.
Moving house is stressful enough at the best of times. I have previously acknowledged that delays in processing some Land Charges applications are unacceptable. I repeat that apology and want to reassure people that this matter is being taken seriously and that there is a plan in place to solve the problem. Having said all of that, I can confirm no instance has been brought to our attention of a delay directly resulting in the loss of a house sale. Land searches are made by specialist firms, not members of the public, and our officers work closely and effectively with these agents advising of delays and successfully prioritising urgent cases. In doing so, it has been possible to manage expectations around completion dates.
Where are we now? There has been significant progress over the summer. The average processing time is now down to 37 working days. The backlog of oldest searches is being steadily reduced while we continue to process urgent enquiries. I must stress that there are searches being processed within 10 working days.
In August the team processed 68.2% of all applications received in that month, while September's performance was 87.8%.
Is this good enough? No, it is not, and we will continue to work hard to improve the service. The management team and I will be monitoring the impact of the new IT system over the coming months to ensure we get to the service standard and stay there as quickly as possible."
Councillor Daren Pemberton, Planning & Building Services Portfolio
31 October 2018