Lancashire residents 'will not be left behind' by county council's shift to digital

Residents who are unable or unwilling to use digital means of communication to contact Lancashire County Council will not be put at a disadvantage, the authority has pledged.

County Hall last year unveiled a plan to become a “digital first” council by processing the majority of less complex queries using online or automated systems.

County Hall is pushing digital communication

County Hall is pushing digital communication

But at a recent meeting of the authority’s internal scrutiny committee, concerns were raised about the impact of the move on some sections of the population.

Liberal Democrat group leader David Whipp said that if the ultimate aim was for 100 percent of people to contact the council digitally, a significant minority risked being “left behind”.

“There is a proportion of the population who are unable, for one reason or another, to access services digitally - and there is an enormous groundswell of opposition to organisations distancing themselves from citizens by putting these digital systems in place which exclude a personal, face-to-face element,” County Cllr Whipp warned.

But Lancashire County Council’s director of strategy, Mike Kirby, said the authority was conscious that not everybody would want to opt for electronic contact - and assured them that they would still be catered for.

“We don’t want a scenario where people’s opportunity to receive a service is hampered by the fact that we are pushing them down a particular communication channel with us.

“We recognise that a number of members of the community won’t want to engage with digital means [of contact] - and they will of course need clear, on-going, good levels of support in relation to how their needs are provided for,” Mr. Kirby said.

But he added that the county council was planning to work with organisations such as Citizens Advice to provide training for people who would like to go digital - but whose capability to do so is currently limited.

“The more people we can get to follow digital channels, [the] more available staff time we have in relation to provision of face-to-face help for other people. It’s very much about striking a balance,” Mr. Kirby said.

When the digital strategy was adopted last year, County Hall said that the shift in communication could allow some services to be accessed around the clock.