The Highland Council has agreed to introduce greater sharing of front counter services to avoid a duplication of running and maintenance costs.
The review of customer services recognises the results of public consultation, which highlighted that people want to do more business on-line and by telephone and want to see a wider sharing of services.
Service Points will share front counter services with Libraries and Registration Offices as well as with Northern Constabulary at a number of locations in the Highlands.
The Council currently has a network of 37 Service Points, which offers a face-to-face customer service to the public. A Customer Services Centre at Alness deals with all general telephony enquiries from the public.
In total, the Council employs 197 staff across the Service Point Network, Service Centre and Registration Service in 50 different locations.
From April, next year, the Council will be stopping all cash and cheque collections at Service Points, directing the public to 300 shops and facilities with Paypoint payment facilities as well as the existing service available at Post Offices. Already more than 100 councils across the UK have adopted this strategy to realise significant savings.
The public will still be able to pay bills by debit or credit cards in Service Points and also pay on line via the Council’s website: www.highland.gov.uk.
As a result of the move away from cash and cheque handling at Council Offices, the cash office at Council Headquarters, Inverness, will be closed by 31 March next year.
Service Points earmarked for closure are Dunvegan, Durness and Drumnadrochit, where offices are currently shared with VisitScotland. At Durness and Acharacle a mobile service for half-a-day per week using relief staff will be provided. In Acharacle, the service will be provided from the existing Service Point premises.
Opening hours of the Service Point at Inverness will be reduced to 40 hours per week with no Saturday morning. Service Points at Alness, Aviemore, Dingwall, Fort William, Nairn, Thurso and Wick will be reduced to 35 hours per week and the opening hours at Fort Augustus, Gairloch, Grantown, Kingussie, Lochcarron, Muir of Ord, Ullapool, Hilton, Inverness and Lairg will be reduced to 17.5 hours per week.
Service Points at Brora, Golspie and Lochcarron will share facilities with libraries in these locations and partnerships will be progressed with Northern Constabulary for shared front counter services at Lairg, Muir of Ord, Bettyhill, Broadford and Gairloch.
Potential for shared service community hubs also exist in Dornoch, Tain, Invergordon, Grantown and Kingussie and Culloden, Inverness, where further work is required to fully assess the most suitable solutions within these communities.
The Council also provides the Registration Service in Highland and Service Point offices and Registration offices in Fort William, Wick, Thurso, Dingwall and Portree will be merged into a single office location to provide a “one stop shop” for customers.
The proposals offer an overall saving of £741,841 in 2011/12 against a budget savings target of £1 million.
Councillor Carolyn Wilson, Chairman of the Council’s Resources Committee, said: “In these times of public spending cuts, we must make the best use of the public pound and sharing front counter services ensures we can keep local services. The status quo is unfortunately not an option.
“After this review, we will still be delivering customer services from 33 Service Points and offering a wide range of options to the public in the way they pay Council bills, including at post offices and Paypoints. And we have promised to review the new service within 12 months, giving the public reassurance we will address any problems that might arise.”