Stoke-on-Trent City Council has said that it is set to cut over 100 call centre jobs over the next two years, to encourage larger uptake of digital services and it is hoped more customers will engage via the internet rather than by telephone.
The council is improving its website to report issues that currently require a call centre service so that customers can use their computer or smartphone to access local authority services.
The council’s chief operating officer Laura Rowley said: “I can’t remember the last time I went to a bank. I can remember picking up the phone and doing my transactions that way. Every time I do so I’m asked about using their website instead.
“Our proposal is to change customer services at the council in a similar way. More and more people can expect to be able to gain access to services through that route. Accessing services digitally is a very popular thing to be able to do.”
But the North Staffordshire Pensioners’ Convention has criticised the proposals, citing a lack of computer literacy, particularly amongst the elderly.
NSPC co-ordinator Andy Day said: “Many of our members are not computer literate and not comfortable using the internet. They would much prefer speaking to someone on the phone, or even face-to-face.”
He added: “If you need to speak to someone about a missed bin collection, a housing repair, or anti-social behaviour, some people would prefer to talk to a real human being, and for more complicated issues, speak to them face-to-face.”
City Independents councillor Peter Hayward said, “There are a lot of people in Stoke-on-Trent who are not computer literate. You’ve got to recognise the fact that the people who are most in need of our help are those who have these shortcomings.”
Chell Heath Residents’ Association chairman Jim Gibson said: “There will be problems because a lot of people still feel their points will be better understood by having a conversation with a person rather than dealing with a computer.
“It is quite possible those who still use the phone will now have to wait longer for their calls to be answered.”
The job cuts will amount to a reduction of around a quarter of the call centre workforce over two years with 73 job losses this year and 33 in 2016 as the council website is redesigned in a £1.2 million digital project.