The Director of HR, OD and Transformation
introduced the report and explained that this was the first report
that combined the digital and customer strategies and outlined the
Council’s digital ambitions framework to transform delivery
and customer service through digital access. She stated that the
report highlighted the four themes within the strategy:
1. Digital Thurrock – to promote growth through technology for residents.
2. Digital Customers - to increase digital access for residents 24/7.
3. Digital Office – to increase efficiency amongst officers using technology.
4. Digital Foundations – to provide reliable infrastructure and security whilst operating online.
The Director of HR, OD and Transformation highlighted 2.3 of the report which stated that the outcome of the strategy was to transform Thurrock and improve digital access. She stated that this strategy also helped meet budget pressures as it would enable efficiencies and maintain services whilst targeting specific resources.
The Vice-Chair thanked officers for the report, but felt concerned that some residents, such as elderly or vulnerable people, would not be able to access online services. He felt pleased to see that the registry office allowed for weddings to be streamed online, and asked how the business plan for the registrars would improve the service. The Director of Strategy, Engagement and Growth replied that the new digital registry office would allow people from across the world to take part in services such as weddings and citizenship ceremonies, and provide a refreshed approach. She stated that this model could be explored in other areas across the Council. Councillor Muldowney stated that a government review in 2019 had found that approximately 10% of the UK were digitally excluded, as some people could not access online services, could not afford broadband, or did not have the training or understanding needed. She asked how these residents would be included in the digital strategy. The Director of HR, OD and Transformation explained that Thurrock had undertaken research into digital exclusion as part of the consultation process for the Health and Wellbeing Strategy. She stated that this strategy would focus on the approach undertaken by the Council, for example by encouraging online self-service but ensuring that alternatives and back-up options were in place for those who could not access the internet. She explained that the strategy would also encourage people to improve their digital ability, as this could improve other areas of their life that now utilised technology more, such as banking. The Director of Strategy, Engagement and Growth added that residents who could not access the internet could call the contact centre, who would help them over the phone or would refer them to the service directly. She added that the new reception in the Civic Offices was open, so residents could use the tablets, direct-dial phones, or speak to the reception staff who would try and help them with their query. She added that the libraries and hubs also contained direct-dial phones to the contact centre.
Councillor Muldowney highlighted page 57 of the report and asked what work had been undertaken to find out the impression of the Council by residents. The Director of Strategy, Engagement and Growth explained that research had been undertaken through the contact centre by providing residents who called with a satisfaction survey and other specific research questions. She added that the team also looked at complaints data and the end-to-end customer journey. Councillor Kent thanked officers for the report, but felt that the word ‘customers’ should not be used, as all customers were residents and did not have a choice in using the council. He felt that many Thurrock residents could not access the internet, for example some residents could not home educate their children during the pandemic as they could not afford broadband, and some care homes within Thurrock did not provide Wi-Fi for their residents. He asked if the team could consider schemes such as promoting Wi-Fi sharing amongst neighbours; free Wi-Fi in council-run care homes; or improved Wi-Fi options in places such as East Tilbury or Chadwell St Mary. He also queried how the team ensured consistent levels of service in the contact centre. Councillor Kent also asked if external consultation would take place regarding the proposed strategy. The Director of Strategy, Engagement and Growth explained that all residents could give feedback on their calls with the contact centre, and the contact centre currently had a 99% satisfaction rate. She added that the contact centre was also independently accredited through a rigorous annual process. She stated that consultation on the strategy could be undertaken through non-digital channels with the voluntary sector and CVS to reach specific groups, and the team were working with the Portfolio Holder to ensure hard to reach groups were also consulted. The Director of Strategy, Engagement and Growth stated that there was currently a full-fibre broadband programme running across south Essex to improve broadband connectivity, and as part of this sheltered housing complexes would have Wi-Fi installed.
RESOLVED: That the Committee:
1. Provided commentary, feedback and suggestions on the draft Digital and Customer Experience Strategy at Appendix 1.