‘Don’t improve call answering times too much’, says senior North Yorkshire councillor

County Hall in Northallerton.

Residents will have no incentive to start accessing council services online if a local authority continues to improve its call answering times, a meeting has heard.

North Yorkshire County Council’s executive was told while the last year had seen average call answering times cut from one minute 24 seconds to only 38 seconds, progress on providing services online had been slow.

The meeting heard while a target of 70 per cent of contacts with the
authority being through digital self-service channels had been set to be achieved by 2020, only 11.3 per cent of contacts were currently online.

Councillor Greg White, the council’s executive member for customer engagement, said the priority move towards online services was “way off” the ambition, partly due to the need to implement one service at a time and also that it had suffered resistance from outside organisations, such as the NHS.

Nevertheless, he said recent progress included introducing online access to blue disabled badge applications.

Councillor Greg White, left, promotes library services.

Cllr White said: “The county council is convinced that the best way we can offer quality services to our customers and residents is through our digital channels.

He added: “We must make sure that we are not so quick at answering the phone that we frustrate that ambition.

“I am confident that we are tackling this in the right way. Each of the services that we bring online we completely re-engineer, so that it is right for the digital platform, so we don’t take the paper system that has been used for many years and try and force that online as is.

“That takes time, effort and resources, but I am confidently that by doing it properly we will only do it once and it will be right.”

Councillor Derek Bastiman raised concerns that not everybody had internet access.

He told the executive: “I would hate for people to be disadvantaged because we don’t answer the phone soon enough and that everybody has the opportunity to ring in and make complaints or make comments.”

Cllr White replied: “If we get a small number of people who really struggle with it we put provision in place at libraries to support people, so they need to get an email address to start with take the through.

“It is all about helping people to access the services in as straightforward a way as possible. Those people will get their blue badges significantly quicker by going to the library than if they try to do it on a paper-based system with a lot of toing and froing of documents.  When it comes to the telephone there is always a resistance to change. If people have been used to doing things  on the telephone they will want to continue to do as they did before.”

Cllr Bastiman said: “The people living in rural areas who have no road transport to get to libraries, they are also our council taxpayers and we must take cognisance of that.”

The council’s deputy leader, Councillor Gareth Dadd said right the balance between online and traditional access to services would only be struck if the authority was able to offer “gold-plated” digital services.

He said: “It is about getting the internet off right, making it easy for the majority of folk can use it.

“We shouldn’t forget the increasingly small number of people that could be disenfranchised. Nobody will be refused a telephone call being answered.”