The leader of Barnet Council accused an opposition councillor of a “whinge-fest” after he cast doubt on efforts to improve customer services.

Cllr Dan Thomas called on councillors to get behind a plan drawn up to ensure Barnet residents do not have to chase requests or make follow-up calls after contacting the council about an issue.

Cllr Thomas (Conservative, Finchley Church End) made improving customer service a priority after taking over as council leader from Cllr Richard Cornelius in May last year.

A report discussed by the policy and resources committee on Monday (January 6) says there have already been improvements and points out that more people are using the council’s website.

The next stage will see a greater focus on “end-to-end processes” so residents do not have to repeatedly contact the council about the same issue, the report adds.

But opposition councillors cast doubt on whether the improvements would happen, claiming similar pledges had been made before.

Cllr Arjun Mittra (Labour, East Finchley) told the meeting: “My concern is we do this time and time again, and nothing seems to really improve.”

Cllr Mittra read out an email he received “about an hour ago” from a resident who had been unable to renew their parking permit – despite spending hours on the telephone and speaking to three different operators.

He said: “I appreciate that you are a new leader and treating this as a priority, but I don’t think Cllr Cornelius did not treat it as a priority.

“Every time we have looked into it, we have ended up with a worse website – and the latest figures on web satisfaction show satisfaction is down.

“We have looked at the phone system for many years now, and things have not improved.”

But Cllr Thomas said: “I know bringing this report to the committee is opening up myself and the council to an absolute whinge-fest. I appreciate that.

“I also note that for every one whinge or complaint we have, there are probably ten more instances where residents have had a very successful transaction.

“I am putting more emphasis on this than there ever has been in this council.

“This will be different this time. It has to be. We can’t afford to not get things right the first time.”

Cllr Alison Moore (Labour, East Finchley) said she shared her colleague’s reservations, as councillors had been talking about customer service problems since 2003.

Cllr Mittra added: “This is feedback from residents. They have a right to complain about it. It is not whingeing.”

Cllr David Longstaff (Conservative, High Barnet) said the points raised in the resident’s email to Cllr Mittra were “valuable feedback”.

Cllr Thomas claimed he had been referring to committee members whingeing, not to residents.

He said: “It is valuable feedback – but to use it for a whinge-fest, while ignoring the substantial report saying ‘we are going to fix this, and we have got a plan’ is quite unhelpful – and I would argue is being used as an axe to grind.”

The next stage of the plan to improve the council’s customer service was agreed by all members of the committee.