A COUNCIL is to close its one-stop shops in Leek, Cheadle and Biddulph on Saturday mornings from June 1.
Staffordshire Moorlands District Council said that since the introduction of Welfare Reform changes, there had not been an increase in the number of type of enquiries at one-stop shops on Saturday mornings and therefore it was intended to close the one-stop shops on this day.
They will be replaced by an automated call centre. However, libraries within some of the buildings will remain open as they come under the control of the county council.
The automated call answering facility on a dedicated phone number for revenues and benefits went live on March 4.
This was initially offered only out of hours after 5.15pm on weekdays and 24/7 at the weekend.
A report to councillors by the authority’s executive director Mark Trillo said: “Given the success of the first phase, work had been commenced on extending this to environmental health, waste and street enquiries.
“These will go live on June 1 and will be offered during out of hours with an option for queue-busting when the contact centre is experiencing high volumes of calls.
“In addition, the contact centre will be open from 8am to 6pm for all council enquiries.” The new facilities will save the council £140,000 over three years. Figures from the authority show that during the last three months, 118 people had used the one-stop shop in Leek; 70 in Cheadle and 71 in Biddulph.
However, at a council meeting last week, several councillors raised concerns over the Saturday closures, and that the council was becoming a “faceless authority”.
Councillor Linda Malyon said: “When Universal Credits come in later this year the enquiries will be greater. I have got serious worries about this. We should be a caring council.
“When people ring in and are distressed or angry, what training have operators had? Also what about the hard of hearing?”
Councillor Henry Jebb said: “If people need help we have to deal with it. On the TV news it has shown people have needed help, but have not got it.
“If all we are doing is cutting costs we will fall into this trap. We need to be careful and also be more proactive.” Councillor Richard Alcock said it was wrong to close the one-stop shops.
He said: “Sometimes Saturday is the only time people can go. It took me ages to get through the call centre one day.”
Councillor Chris Wood said it seems that calls to the centre had gone down in a month.
He said: “Is this because people have given up on it? Some people would like a one-to-one with an adviser. We need an update on this and also from the community feedback in September.”
Councillor Mahfooz Ahmad said that it seemed that money came before people.
He said: “I know one person who is ill, who asked to talk to the housing manager, but was told they could do nothing.
This person could get nowhere.
“We should be keeping the one-stop shops open on Saturdays, as when all the reforms are in people will be suffering.”
Councillor Charlotte Atkins said that assurance had got to be given that all calls were logged. She said: “People using the automated service want assurance that their call will not be lost. What evidence is there of the enquiries?”
Customer service manager Louise Pearce said that all calls would be logged to a confidential site on the system and downloaded every day.
Councillor Margaret Lovatt said she had concerns about older people, as in one case she knew about the person concerned could only get down to the office on Saturdays when her son could bring her.
She said: “People feel better speaking face-to-face. I fear we are moving to a faceless authority.”
It was agreed that a report was to be presented to the panel in September on how the new system was operating.