Customer Services Review
The Council currently operates 35 full and part-time Service Points throughout the Highlands, which provide advice and information through face to face contact with customers. This service complements the Council’s Customer Services Centre at Alness, which deals with all general telephone enquiries from the public, as well as the Council’s web site: www.highland.gov.uk which provides a growing number of online services.
The committee agreed to move the emphasis to demand led customer contact, this will mean a major upgrade to its website to make it easier for the public to book and pay for services, increase staffing at its Service Centre, increase the number of community facilities with self-service provision as well as provide a mobile outreach service to those customers not able to visit a Service Point.
In doing so members agreed to reduce the number of Service Points to 12 full-time community hub offices, with effect from June 2015. The Service Points targeted for replacement are those that attract less than 100 customers per week. Those which will remain open are: - Wick, Thurso, Golspie, Tain, Alness, Dingwall, Ullapool, Portree, Fort William, Inverness, Nairn and Aviemore. All will provide a registration service.
In locations affected the proposals to, there will be facilitated self service points, mostly in libraries. These facilities will be provided in all 40 libraries across the Highlands, meaning that people will have access to self service in more locations than the current service, and in most cases, for longer periods, including, for some, Saturdays and/or evenings. In some communities there may be other more suitable solutions e.g. at a Visitor Information Centre, school or with other partners.
The review was carried out in order to deliver a savings target agreed by the Council as part of the Council’s budget setting process in February 2013.
Council Leader Drew Hendry gave three pledges at the meeting. He said: “Firstly, no member of staff will face compulsory redundancy as a result of this process.Secondly all new contact facilities will be in place before any existing services are removed. And, thirdly, anyone who either needs – or wants – a face to face contact within those communities, where a change is to be made, can make an appointment suitable to them.”
He also confirmed that he had been advised that, though a limited number of library staff involved in the changes would be re-graded to reflect new duties, that they would not see any changes to their terms and conditions as a result of the process. He has written to members of the committee and will write to the Highlife Highland staff involved to apologise for saying in committee that they would not lose any pay.
Councillor Dave Fallows, Chair of the Finance Housing and Resources Committee, said the outcome of the review focused on customer footfall and analysed the changing behaviour of customers, away from face to face and more to web, phone and email.
He said: “The existing model of customer services was appropriate at the time that the network was established in the early 1990s. But we have to move with the times and recognise the way our customers wish to do business and at a time which most suits their lifestyles. The review presents an opportunity to use new technologies to make it easier for customers to pay bills, report faults and book services. The review has included consultation with partners particularly Police Scotland, Visit Scotland and High Life Highland, to ensure an agreed joint approach to the new service delivery model.”
He said it was proposed that the changes be implemented over an extended time period between June 2014 and June 2015, allowing time for a phased programme of replacement and allowing the Customer Services management team to work with staff to maximise redeployment opportunities.
The projected savings, he said, will be £355,000 with £195k being reinvested into new jobs in the remaining community hubs, service centre and website management and then £160k returned as savings to the Council.