Harrow Council claim to have a digital and technology approach that is customer-centric and continually improving services to residents (customer-centric and continually improving services to residents) but everything we hear from local people we speak to, and read on platforms online clearly shows that this is not happening.
I have seen claims in the recent past such as Harrow Council has saved £1.2m by moving contact online and celebrating bland statistics such as:
- Over 135,000 registered users
- Contact in some areas down by 82%
- 51% reduction in council tax contact
- 45,000 log-ins each month
- 40,000 web forms are completed each month
Lots of buzzwords like 'channel shift' and 'channel migration' continue to be used even today.
Whilst we are of course doing more and more transactional work online - from buying goods and services to logging missed bin reports, the need for a human contact on the phone hasn't entirely disappeared.
But the council have made it incredibly difficult to even find a phone number for the council. Phoning the 020 8901 2610 number displayed when you search for "contact harrow council" on Google gives you automated prompts, with no 'other' option. So if you're call doesn't fit into their narrow categories, then you're out of luck.
You just have to read almost weekly messages on popular Harrow Facebook groups, or on Nextdoor (the local neighbourhood website) and you'll see lots of local Harrow residents complaining about how it is impossible to contact the council or if you're lucky enough to find an email address, then get a reply from it.
There seems to be no way of raising this issue, unless you contact your local councillor. Surely, Harrow Council doesn't want its elected councillors to be the first port of call for all issues! Not to be cheeky, but using this approach might make this current administration sit up and listen - to find your local councillor, click here.
Harrow Council needs a bold new change, a bold new way of thinking. Simply saying you are customer centric and not actually asking your customers if they perceive you to be acting that way is a fools errand. The least you should expect of your local council is to be able to contact them when you need to, and if you do to get a response in a timely fashion.
The Lib Dems would make sure that residents can contact the council and expect a response within a reasonable timeframe, with full transparency on whether those commitments are being met, and of course we would make sure that those who need help in using digital channels confidently would still be able to contact a human being at the council, which should be every resident's right.