Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Will new technologies lead to an end to traditional services?

Andrew Wallis has blogged an interesting snippet from today's Cabinet meeting where the Leader Alec Robertson gave figures for the cost of different types of transaction that the Council has with residents.

Alec said that the average cost of an internet transaction was 70p, of a postal transaction £2 and of a face to face transaction at a One Stop Shop £20.

These figures alarmed me and I have found out more.

It seems that to arrive at these numbers, officers took the total cost of a means of providing a service and divided that by the number of people who used the service. So if a service costs £1000 and there are 10,000 users, then the cost per transaction is said to be 10p.

I think that this is a fairly spurious number. The actual cost of each transaction will vary greatly but would more realistically be calculated by counting the actual cost of the staff time used and the other additional resources that are spent on it. Using the methodology of Cllr Robertson, web services will always be cheaper as they cost nothing (or very little) when they are not being used. In the case of One Stop Shops, we have to pay staff whether they are actively helping a resident or not.

We should, of course, look at ways of making the best value for money out of the One Stop Shops. We need to build up footfall - especially as we encourage more residents to use online services. But we should not simply take today's numbers and use them as an excuse to slash One Stop Shops or opening hours. Especially as there are many people who find it much more difficult to access the Council by internet, phone or even post, particularly for complex enquiries.

But there is a wider point as well. As we embrace new technologies, will traditional forms of customer service be cut back? How can we find the happy medium that balances good service with value for money?

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