Shrewsbury, England, July, 2023 - Shropshire Council’s call centre will see its opening hours cut after controversial changes were agreed by its cabinet.
The authority says it wants more people using digital means for general council enquiries, freeing up staff time to make more outbound calls to potentially vulnerable residents.
However the move has come under fire from opposition councillors, who said the new hours would leave less tech-savvy people with no means of contacting the council if they cannot call during the reduced opening times.
Proposing the changes, Councillor Robert Macey, portfolio holder for culture and digital, said many people were able to use the website with queries relating to things like waste, highways and planning.
He stressed that the changes would not affect people calling with adult social care requests and queries, concerns for children, risk of homelessness or urgent highways issues.
"Customer service centre opening times were last reviewed many years ago and still reflect more historic levels of contact," said Councillor Macey.
"Since that last review our online offer has improved considerably, and customer habits have also changed.
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"There is a general downward trend in these calls there is also a very established pattern of calls during the working day."
Currently the centre operates from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays.
The new opening times will be Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm, with extended opening until 6pm on a Monday for a three-month trial period.
Councillor Macey said more pro-active outbound calls would "stop people falling into crisis situations" which can result in far greater costs to the council and other agencies.
He also said the later hours being trialled one day a week were a direct result of the consultation responses, adding: "We have listened to residents."
Leader Lezley Picton said the outcomes for residents contacted by the increased number of outgoing calls would be collated and presented at a future meeting.
Opposition leaders were quick to criticise the plans, accusing the Conservative administration of disregarding people without access to the internet.
Councillor Roger Evans, Liberal Democrat leader, said: "There are a large number of residents who still want to contact and talk to a human being rather than use the internet.
"A number do not have smart phones, they cannot use the internet on their phones, and their broadband at home isn’t very good."
Councillor Julia Buckley, leader of the Labour group, said: "I remain very concerned about the impact of the proposal.
"The report itself states that we have in Shropshire a very high level of digitally excluded people – unusually high, at 25 per cent.
"That’s over 88,000 residents who will not be able to access your digital services.
"Can we please consider the impact on residents, and reputation to this council, to save a few peanuts?"
Councillor Picton said she wanted to make it absolutely clear that the call centre was not closing down.
She said to Councillor Buckley: "Both you and Councillor Evans are trying to make out we are closing customer services. We are absolutely not."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
Published: Tuesday, July 25, 2023
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