Council services by letter

Agenda item


Channel Shift Programme - Update

Report of the Corporate Director of Resources.


In accordance with Committee Procedure Rule 4.1, the Committee agreed that the Chair of the Performance and Finance Scrutiny Sub-Committee who was not a member of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee be allowed to address the meeting in respect of this item.  The report on the Council’s Channel Shift Programme had been programmed for the December 2019 meeting of the Performance and Finance Scrutiny Sub-Committee but had been brought forward to this meeting to allow for its earlier consideration.


The Committee received a report of the Corporate Director of Resources, which provided an update on the Council’s Channel Shift Programme through to 2021.  An officer introduced the report and reported that:


-               over the next six months, the Council would be re-launching its digital presence through a significant and innovative upgrade to the website which would include a re-platforming of the MyHarrow account;


-               the planned improvements would enable the Council to take a leap forward towards its Channel Shift Programme and to make savings set out in the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS).


The officer explained the proposed reduction in the telephony and email channels to a number of services, such as education, public realm, benefits, details of which were set out in the report.  Services such as school admissions and parking were, currently, only accessible via the Council’s website, MyHarrow account or self-service telephony.


The Chair of the Performance and Finance Scrutiny Sub-Committee stated that she was supportive of the achievements made to date in relation to the Channel Shift Programme and the process should continue.  She noted that the Public Realm, a vast service area, was scheduled next and expressed concern about the impact of the changes on residents.  She asked how the planned changes would be communicated to residents.


In response, the officer reported that the launch date had been pushed back to January - March 2020 and that he was working with the Communication Team on how best to convey the closure messages to residents.  He outlined various measures that were in train which would improve reporting of incidences so that they could be dealt with quickly.  He added that calls to Public Realm had reduced vastly and could be reduced further by ensuring functionality online which was currently lacking.  The Committee was briefed on the following priorities and informed of the need to ensure that suitable platforms were in place:


-               ensuring that the available technology in the Civic Centre was modern and fit for purpose;


-               resources were available to work with residents and the voluntary sector to help residents who struggled to use online services;


-               make available a precision routing telephone system for those who were unable to use online services.


The Chair of Performance and Finance Scrutiny Sub-Committee was pleased to learn that the Public Realm ‘shift’ had been delayed but was mindful that the revised implementation date of January 2020 was looming.  She asked how confident officers were that the Council would be able to manage the anticipated changes in technology.


The officer explained that residents expected an online service which was personalised such as that provided by Amazon.  The Council offered 760 different services and they did not fit well on the Homepage of the website.  The intention was to move towards a personalised service which would provide local information such as the user’s local Ward Councillors, bin collections and planning applications along with any services that had been accessed online recently.  Additionally, the type of device used would dictate the information available and the format on how it had been delayed.


The Chair of the Performance and Finance Scrutiny Sub-Committee expressed concern about the recent increase in complaints in the Public Realm Service which had tripled and questioned the systems in place.  She was informed that the rise had been due to the introduction of recycling to flats in the borough and was assured that complaints for the food waste and bin collection service were at an all time low.


Members of the Committee scrutinised the following areas:


-               in welcoming the aspirations to move towards a digitalised service, they highlighted the importance of identifying those residents who were unable to use online services and how they would be identified;


-               how vulnerable clients would be monitored;


-               how online usage would be nurtured to ensure that sufficient staffing was available to assist vulnerable residents;


-               the routing of completed online forms which appeared ambiguous.  The Chair cited his personal experience as it would deter people from completing such forms.


The officer responded as follows:


-               data sets were currently available across the Council and would enable the Council to identify vulnerable residents.  The Council would work with the voluntary sector to ensure that those unable to use online services were not disadvantaged.  There were no plans to close telephone lines across all services.  For example, there were no plans to close the adult social care lines;


-               plans were in place to ensure that vulnerable clients were not disadvantaged.  In the event of any issues with the launch of the new website, a roll back position was available.  The new website was undergoing a rigorous testing;


-               only 2% of the borough was not covered by Broadband.  Locally, 75-88% of the population had access to a Smart Phone.  Risks would be mitigated by showing residents how to access services online and the Council’s own devices in the One Stop Shop would be upgraded.  The telephony and email channels for School Admissions were still open due to the requirements for clothing grants.  Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) would help mitigate situations such as those recently experienced by the Education Service through relaying importing messages and directing callers where appropriate;


-               usage of forms online was important as data was directly transferred to the legacy system through integration resulting in a quicker service.  A strong communication strategy would help ensure its success and work in this area was underway.  Changes in user behaviour were also important.  Feedback from web forms was reviewed and analysed and a sample of users were contacted to discuss the problem in more detail.  Data was collated by a member of staff in Access Harrow who looked for common themes of issues so that they could be resolved and changes made.  Up to 80% of users had found that forms were easy to access and use to report problems.


RESOLVED:  That the report be noted.

Supporting documents: