Better access to council services plan wins approval

A scheme to transform access to council services has been unanimously approved by councillors at Aberdeenshire Council.

The Improving the Customer Experience (iCE) initiative will expand the range of options available to residents who need to access vital council information and services such as housing applications, planning enquiries and fault reporting.

Investment over the next three years will be used to shift how people interact with the council, providing access to council services at a time, and a place that suits the needs of the residents, for example, through out of hours self service via the council’s website.

The plan was approved by councillors at the Policy and Resources Committee on Thursday (January 10) and will see a programme of changes which will increase the availability of services online, while maintaining face-to-face contact through establishing multi-service hubs in Aberdeenshire’s main towns.

The plan also looks to develop the use of social media as well as exploring access to council services through mobile technology such as Apps.

Councillors agreed to invest up to £2.7 million in the programme, over the next three years, subject to regular reviews and reports to committee.

Head of Customer Communication and Improvement, Kate Bond, told members that customers were increasingly seeking to access services at a time and in a way that suits them. There are no proposals to shut down any existing systems, but to enhance opportunities available for customers to access information and services.

The money will also support the training and development of front line staff to ensure better management of enquiries. The iCE blueprint will also see investment in the council’s contact centre to ensure residents find it easier to reach the service they require.

Some of the first changes, scheduled to commence this summer, include applications for council housing, council tax and council tax benefits being made available online. Applications for bus passes will also go live on the council website, while housing payments, reporting of environmental issues and social care assessments are set to follow.

The council also plans to offer enhanced online functionality for booking and payment of school activities, applications for free school meals, licensing applications and certain planning enquiries. The aim is to create a multi-functioning website where a range of council services are available online.

Aberdeenshire Council is also keen to develop its face-to-face customer service provision, and money will be allocated to creating and maintaining service centres in each of the council’s biggest communities. These will be multi-functional, and will provide access to a range of council services in one place.

Money will also be used to provide better training to council staff in these service hubs, to help them manage the range of requests for different council services.

The iCE programme will also improve the quality of information available to residents through a range of resources, ensuring that customers receive the real time information that they desire.It is expected the three-year plan will deliver improved customer satisfaction by increasing the options for access to council services, whilst retaining face-to-face provision at council hubs across Aberdeenshire.