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When is a complaint not a complaint?

On September 10, 2014, in Highways Agency, by PeterSilverman

Answer: When its made about motorway litter to the Highways Agency.

75% of complaints are classified as either “notifications” or “enquiries”.

“Caller reports severe litter problems” becomes an enquiry

“The verges of the entry slips are strewn with rubbish and litter” is  logged as a notification.

M40 March 2010

M40 March 2010

In 2010 I obtained copies of all of the Highways Agency Information Line (HAIL) phone and e-mail logs  mentioning litter on the M40 for the first quarter of that year.

Here are the key phrases from the 14 logs and how they were as classified by the Agency:





Classified as complaints

I am writing to complain about the appalling levels of litter….on the M25 and M40. The levels were staggering. 8877964 

I was appalled by the mounds of litter on the slip roads. 8878899

Litter on verge of M40  – why is nothing being done?  he feels it is a national embarrassment.  8886456

Classified as notifications

M40 – The verges of the entry slips are strewn with rubbish and litter. 8865305 

Customer rang to complain generally about the large amount of litter which is visible making the area look untidy 8877463 

Gentleman left voice mail reporting litter on the slip road joining Beaconsfield to M40. 8872820 

I noted today a large amount of litter on the side of the slip road to the M40 at Beaconsfield 8878389 

I have been struck by the phenomenal level of litter on this motorway (M40). 8880387 

Gentleman is complaining about the state of litter build on the M40 in general and would like to know what measures are taken to keep it clean”8885745 

Parts of M40, M6 and M56 appeared very rubbish strewn on recent journeys. 8887913 

I travel between J15 and J 2 of the M40 at least 3 times a week.  … I can’t fail to notice the amount of litter that has been collecting on the verges. 8890657 

Classified as Enquiries

Caller reports severe litter problems on the M40. J2 slip roads heading SB .. is very bad. 8878988

M25 from j24 to 15. She states there is litter consistently across this stretch. Caller also reports that the situation is very bad on the entire length of the M40. 8883587

On my recent journey I would identify the following black spots… M6 central reservation is very rubbish strewn… M40 slip road at Beaconsfield heading onto the motorway eastbound is very bad.  8889945

The Agency define the classifications as follows:

• Complaint –      It’s disgusting how much litter there is

• Notification –    I’d like to report a lot of litter that needs removing

• Enquiry –          When are you going to be litter picking?

• Compliment –   Thanks for clearing the litter

It is difficult to reconcile these definitions with the everyday meaning of the word “complaint”and to understand how they have been applied to the 14 communications.

Caller reports severe litter problems”,  “Caller also reports that the situation is very bad on the entire length of the M40″ and “M6 central reservation is very rubbish strewn” are by no stretch of the imagination “enquiries”. They are “complaints”. The data is misleading.

Incidentally there were 4226 HAIL logs recording litter issues between 1st Jan 2009 and 31st May 2014 mentioning litter. They were classified as follows:

• Complaints        26%
• Notifications     36%
• Enquiries          37%
• Compliments    0.6%

Highways Agency litter complaints grossly understated

Peter Silverman
10th September 2014


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