BOSSES in Tameside are consulting on whether to close their drop in face-to-face customer services for good at the new multi-million pound council HQ.
The customer service centre, which deals with welfare rights, Citizens Advice, and Jobcentre Plus opened at the £48 million Tameside One building in Ashton-under-Lyne in March 2019.
They were forced to close and move to online and telephone delivery following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic a year later.
However the council has now launched a public consultation to ‘restructure’ its customer services so that the ‘vast majority’ of enquiries would be dealt with by email, webchat or over the phone.
This would see the ‘expensive reactive’ drop-in customer service centre at Tameside One closed.
‘Level two’ enquiries, such as payments, service requests and verification of housing benefit documents could instead be done at the borough’s eight libraries under the proposals.
A report to the executive cabinet states that a ‘self-serve’ model would save £51,000 in this year, which would increase to £97,000 annually from 2022/23 and ‘recurrently thereafter’.
The savings would contribute to the overall ask for the operations and neighbourhood department to cut £1.823m this year, rising to £2.415m by 2025/26.
Cabinet member responsible for neighbourhoods, community safety and environment, Allison Gwynne said: “This report is to respond to some of the changes that we made through the pandemic and to consult to move to a digital first model of customer service where possible, followed by supported channels for those that are unable to use digital services.”
The report states that face-to-face contact, bookable over the telephone, would be provided where necessary but only for those where ‘other channels would not be suitable’.
These would be the most vulnerable, to ensure residents would be able to access services and assistance ‘without disadvantage’.
Director of operations and neighbourhoods, Ian Saxon, said: “We make adjustments and refinements to customer services like all services on an ongoing basis and you’ll be aware that we’ve recently brought things like webchats online.
“The opportunity that we’ve got here is, perhaps as a result of Covid, we’re much more reliant and more comfortable with using online service delivery.
“That brings benefits in many respects and what we have seen is that some of our services have been well utilised online whilst during the lockdown and we had to stop the face-to-face service.
“There’s a chance and an opportunity to adjust those services in line with the customer demand and the change in approach to online service delivery.
“This would not see the removal of face-to-face services, it would be an adjustment to the face-to-face but it would still remain for those need that type of service to deal with the most complex enquiries.”
The consultation on the proposals launches today (Monday, June 28) and will run until September 19.