New calls system 'could save £140k'
A COUNCIL'S new automated call-answering service could save taxpayers £140,000 over three years, it is claimed.
From February Staffordshire Moorlands District Council will use the computerised system to deal with residents' out-of-hours queries on issues such as council tax, benefits and bin collections.
The authority's three one-stop shops will be closed on Saturday mornings, with residents directed to use the telephone service instead.
Council leaders eventually hope to roll out the system 24-hours a day, which they say will both reduce staffing costs and improve access to the public.
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The one-stop shops, in Leek, Cheadle and Biddulph are currently open from 9am to 1pm on Saturdays.
A survey showed that over a month, staff at the three centres dealt with 137 queries on Saturdays, the majority of which could have been handled by the automated phone line.
Residents using the system will be asked to navigate a series of menus in order to access the service they require.
The council estimates that introducing the system out-of-hours will reduce the number of calls received the next day by 20 per cent, cutting staffing costs by £32,000.
Closing the one-stop shops at weekends will save an additional £14,000, meaning the automated system will pay for itself within a year.
If the system is extended to operate at all times, it is estimated that savings could reach £140,000 over three years.
But Councillor Tony Hall, cabinet member for customer services, insisted the main reason for the change was to improve access to services, rather than to save money.
He said: "We are doing this so people can access services at times when the council is closed. I know some people can find automated services frustrating, but there will always be the option of speaking to a real person during office hours, or getting someone to call you back the following day.
"We are closing the one-stop shops on Saturday mornings because people are saying they want to access services in a different way.
"Some Saturdays nobody comes in at all, yet we still have two members of staff on duty."
Mr Hall also denied that the introduction of the automated system would eventually lead to contact centre staff being made redundant.
Under the changes, the contact centre will be staffed from 8am on weekdays, 45 minutes earlier than it currently opens.
Initially the service will operate before 8am and after 5.15pm on weekdays, and at all times at weekends.
A report on the plans says extending the service to operate 24 hours would allow staff to deal with more complicated issues.
The report states: "It is important to note that more vulnerable callers and those with urgent and complex inquiries can be helped in more detail, as skilled advisers are released from more simple transactions. This element will be key in the coming months as the implications arising from welfare reform begin to take effect."
Councillors have until next Wednesday to call in the decision to introduce the automated service.