The right balance: self-serve and frontline

Luke Allen, Director of Communications, NSL

Few organisations have had to grapple with the multitude of challenges that local government has faced over the past decade. From austerity and devolution to outsourcing and channel shift, the operational and financial challenges have been immense. And all the time with service demand and funding in frontline services seemingly following diametric paths.

Of course the majority of Councils have taken steps to protect critical frontline services. In all cases, though, the key requirement has been to do more with less, which has prompted increased online interaction and a flurry of self-serve initiatives. Such moves offer obvious and immediate benefits in terms of demand management. But the benefits are often short-lived and the outcomes are frequently out of kilter with the core objectives for creating more resilient, prosperous and self-sustaining communities. Indeed, contact centre solutions and self-serve functionality inevitably reduce social interaction and compound the increasing arm’s length relationship between a Council and the community it serves. Such an outcome is counter-productive, self-defeating and undermines future service progression and development.

The real challenge for councils is to harness frontline resources in a way that will not only complement new digital capabilities but, more importantly, will also enhance the experience of citizens, reflect local priorities and add value at the point of delivery. By extending the scope and remit of existing community resources, such as civil enforcement officers, there is a tangible means for reducing costs, improving outcomes and growing revenues via better demand management and more effective citizen and community engagement.

This shift towards multifunctional and multi-skilled roles provides a local authority with the eyes, ears and point of contact right out in the heart of local communities. Such roles also offer a visual reassurance for members of the community – especially for vulnerable individuals – which is so important when one takes into account the cut backs in local community policing.

The transformation of frontline resources to deliver more holistic outcomes represents a significant step change for local government – working across departmental and budgetary boundaries and placing greater emphasis on innovation and outcomes-based commissioning. However, the positive impacts derived from such an approach should not be underestimated, as they are being delivered in the places that matter most and where they can have the greatest effect.

First published in the Municipal Journal