Monday, 12 September 2011

Keeping in contact

Making contact with local people during the recent Big Conversation
Talking to people around the town it’s clear one of the things they like is the information centre in the Town Hall. You can find out about council services, bus times and what’s going on around the town. And of course it is ideally placed – right in the heart of the town’s shopping area. Buses stop in Queen’s Road or you can park in the car parks nearby.

But you can’t pay your parking fine there; or sort out your housing benefit claim or your council tax query. For that you have to go to Aquila House out on the seafront.

Wouldn’t it be better if all personal contact with the council could be done in one building; and shouldn’t that be the Town Hall which is so easy to find and to get to?

Well that’s just what we are going to do with our plans for a contact centre. Councillors and council staff have been to see how these centres work in other councils and they were very impressed, especially by the contact centre in Margate. In fact they liked it so much we recruited the Margate manager and she is now putting her experience and knowledge to work to make sure the Hastings one is better still.

So it will mean anyone wanting to make personal contact with the borough council for whatever service will go to the Town Hall.

This will make it the people’s Town Hall. Aquila House will be a workplace for staff but the public will come to the Town Hall for all advice, information and services and of course council meetings and if that requires more space on the ground floor to serve our residents so be it.

And all enquiries or one to one interviews for things like benefits will be available on the ground floor so there will be full accessibility for everyone.

We have been recruiting a team of staff for their interpersonal skills and knowledge of council services so they can provide nearly all the information a resident might require when they phone up or drop in. They will spend part of their time answering phone queries and some time on the front desks. If there is a busy period on either they can be easily moved around to cope with the rush.

If anyone needs more specialised advice on the phone then the call can be transferred to the appropriate council department. But it will mean callers being left hanging on the end of a phone line much less often.

This new approach has already begun to be implemented with waste and planning contact being dealt with centrally. Telephone waiting times at the council have come down hugely.

And of course only having one place for personal contact with the council rather than two as we do now will save money at a time when that is a vital consideration. By Spring/Summer 2012 contact with most council services will be via the Town Hall.

The high quality of service we currently offer local people when they contact us will continue but all in the one building which will be better for everyone.