Council customer services set to become self-service as authority looks to save money (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Bradford Council customer services set to become self-service as authority looks to save £540,000 a year
Updated 2:10pm Wednesday 16th July 2014 in News
CUSTOMER services at Bradford Council could go DIY in future in a move to save the authority £540,000 a year but which would leave most residents to find their own answers to problems.
If approved, it would mean the loss of four of the district's customer service centres and the remaining two in Keighley and the city centre would have a change of focus, with visitors directed to a self-service area rather than immediately seeing an advisor.
A team of floor walkers would help those who could not manage to use the facilities unaided.
Bradford Council has invested in improved technology ahead of the proposed change. Face-to-face contact would remain where necessary, such as when forms need to be signed.
Changes already made include automating high volume telephone contact, automating e-forms on the website, introducing a mobile telephone app, developing a live web chat service and new web videos to explain some topics in different languages.
Now councillors are being asked to decide on the future of the service and the option which would save the £540,000 needed involves scrapping current "fixed location" customer service centres at Manningham Library, Shipley Town Hall, Bingley Library and Ilkley Town Hall.
They would be replaced with a new community outreach team offering "information surgeries" across the district in the areas of greatest need. Two of the four contact points under threat are currently staffed on an appointment-only basis.
The moves are part of a strategy approved in 2012 and investment of £1.2 million which was approved last year.
However in February it was agreed that £540,000 a year would be stripped from the delivery costs by streamlining the service. Almost two thirds of these savings will be through "staffing efficiencies".
The majority of initial public contact by telephone will still be handled by the authority's corporate contact centre and automatic telephone options will be used for routine matters such as making payments.
Ian Day, Interim Assistant Director, Neighbourhoods and Customer Services, said: "Like many other organisations around the country, we are moving forward with our customer service delivery that directs more people online, but at the same time, still maintaining a face-to-face service wherever we can.
"The Council has looked to protect front line services as far as possible, but the scale of national cuts in council budgets means that many services have to be changed and some will need to be delivered online, with less face-to face contact.
"It is likely that there will be fewer jobs, certainly in the medium to long term, due to the level of cuts required."
Bradford Council leader Cllr David Green said: "Encouraging people to use the web to find out answers to their questions means they are able to contact the Council 24/7.
"We have invested money to improve self service and digital communication which will make us more efficient.
"We have to be aware, however, that not everyone uses the internet and some of these people may have the greatest need of our public services.
"We therefore need to maintain face to face customer services in Bradford city centre at Britannia House and at Keighley, with an outreach team working through Council facilities such as libraries to provide information and support in communities."
A decision is expected to be made when the Council's executive meets on Tuesday, July 22, at City Hall, from 10.30am.