News : 100 Council Jobs Could be Cut as Residents Go Online
Cheshire, England, April 6, 2015 -- Nearly 100 jobs could be cut as more residents are encouraged to contact a council through its website.
Cheshire East Council is adopting a 'digital by default' policy for its customer services, which could eventually save the authority each year.
It will result in a reduction of 94 full-time staff in the council's contact centre and other departments, such as corporate services, revenues and development management.
Around £4.9 million will be invested in making the website more user-friendly, so residents will be able to access information and services more easily.
The website will also be made more accessible through smart phones and tablets, as 42 per cent of residents currently visit the site via mobile devices.
Council leaders hope these changes will result in thousands of residents 'shifting' to digital channels, with less demand for more costly phone-based services.
A report to cabinet states: "Designing and promoting services that are 'digital by default' will improve access for residents and help the council meet its commitment to be a 'resident first', effective and efficient council.Thirty-six per cent of Cheshire East residents prefer to use digital channels in the way they access services today, and there is the potential for 70 per cent of our residents to shift to digital in the way they interact with the council.
"Our customer portal will provide a single route into the council's digital services, with information tailored around the individual's specific needs and requirements."
The council currently receives more than 330,000 information requests and 230,000 service requests a year, with around 80 per cent coming via phone or requiring manual data entry. Under the digital proposals, 55 per cent of these requests will shift to the website or become more automated.
The council is also looking to create 'digital community hubs', which will allow residents to share information and resolve 'smaller issues' without contacting the authority at all.
A council spokesman said: "The council's digital customer services programme aims to make all council services and information more accessible through a digitally enhanced web site that will be easy to use and tailored around an individual's specific needs and requirements.
"Currently there is a potential for 70 per cent of Cheshire East residents to shift to digital interaction with the council and we know that 36 per cent prefer to use digital channels.This will provide a simple-to-use digital one-stop shop for residents and a full support service will be in place for the vulnerable and those needing assistance to access the digital portal.
"The digital service will be of enormous benefit to people in remote areas, in particular, who do not have easy access to council buildings."
"The financial net benefit to the council and ultimately council taxpayers is £2.3m but it is not intended that there should be a reduction in council staff at the commencement of this service.
"Release of resources will be determined by the take up of digital services by customers.
"If staff numbers are affected by the changes, then the impact on resources will be managed in accordance with the Council's restructuring and redeployment procedures."
Craig Nicholson, branch secretary for Unison at the council, said: "We always have concerns over reduced staffing levels, so we'll be doing everything in our power to ensure staff are represented in any discussions on the digital proposals.
"Once cabinet makes the decision to move forward we will look to enter detailed consultation on any potential restructuring to the work force."
Resident Peter Aston, from Congleton, said: "It is part of a general trend, with more services moving online. as a lot of people are now more used to the internet and computers.
"But there are people who don't have access to the internet or are not computer-savvy. The council needs to be very careful when moving everything online that it doesn't disenfranchise this area of society.
"Too often these things are done without thinking about the consequences and whether everyone will be able to cope.
"I can understand why this has been done, but balance is required. "Phone, mail or face-to-face services need to be kept alongside those online."
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About Cheshire East Council :
Cheshire East Council is the local authority of Cheshire East.
Published: Tuesday, April 7, 2015