02:18PM, Friday 12 November 2021
Slough council is looking into streamlining its customer and IT services to save money – noting that inefficiencies in the system have contributed to overlarge costs.
At a meeting on Thursday, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee heard that the council was overspending to make up for the ineffectiveness of other systems.
Callers to the council are facing long waits on the phone because the phone lines are ‘picking up the pieces of all the other structure failures’, said leader of the council, James Swindlehurst (Lab & Co-Operative, Cippenham Green).
This is partly because IT-based services, such as the ‘report it’ tool (whereby residents use online forms to alert the council of issues such as broken street lights), have not been fit for purpose.
As a result, residents have felt the need to call the council to follow up a week later. The delay in response can create the need to hire temporary staff to deal with enquiries that are taking too long.
The council is supposed to solve such issues in ten working days but ‘frequently fails to reach that’, Cllr Swindlehurst said.
By making infrastructural improvements to its digital systems, the council hopes to have more flexible permanent staff working both in the back office and manning phones.
Fellow councillors on the committee raised concerns about the proposal to make the workforce a ‘slightly tighter cohort of people’.
Cllr Mohammed Sharif (Labour, Chalvey) said that his preference was for investing in services to improve them, rather than cutting them.
Although Cllr Swindlehurst agreed that it is ‘a false economy’ to starve services, he said that the council must be leaner with its investments.
“This principle of investment good but just we haven’t always made that investment very wisely,” he said. “Even if you take five per cent off, that’s still a (significant) investment.”
Moreover, the council’s scale of reliance on interim staff has had long-term consequences for the council’s finances, he added.
It is also suffering from needing to keep posts open that no one is filling. The alternative is to delete the post, allowing the organisation to ‘catch up to reality’.
“We’re not really changing the reality very much, we’re just we’re just no longer holding this post that no one’s been recruited in for years,” said Cllr Swindlehurst.
The plan is now to grow and training ‘high quality’ permanent staff, upskilling existing staff to create with in-house expertise.
“All too often, the reason these (departments) require big investments is because we’re paying a huge amount to a and external consultant to support us because we’re not really familiar with what we’re doing, and they exploit us shamefully,” said Cllr Swindlehurst.