Agenda item

Update on Progress with the Council's Digital Strategy

The Councils Five Year Digital Strategy was adopted by Full Council approximately 18 months ago and this report is an update on progress so far and provides insight into the next phase of the programme.

Since starting delivery of the programme, we have been faced by a worldwide pandemic and in response to the changing landscape have re-focused some areas of the programme.

This report is an information update and the Committee is being asked to note the progress of the programme and its future direction.



The Chair invited the Head of Technology and Digital to present his report. He outlined that the Council’s Digital Strategy had been approved approximately 18 months ago and he provided an update on progress to date and an insight into the next phase of the programme.


Since the commencement of the delivery programme, the Council had faced a worldwide pandemic and in response to the changing landscape had had to refocus some areas of work. Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, there had been significant achievements made. Rolling out homeworking for all staff proved that the Council could operate differently and deliver more services digitally.  A programme called “Future Ways of Working” was looking at how the Council could take this work forward to maximise opportunities.  A new web site had been designed around how and why customers contacted the Council looking at usage trends, best practice and working with service colleagues across the Council. The new website was launched in July 2021 adding new interactive services. One of these had been the introduction of Webchat and a new on-line appointment booking system was planned. Looking at statistics, it could be seen that the number of visits to the website had increased by 40%, part of this could be related to Covid and partly due to the new website design. Other new developments were digital newsletters, allowing customers to sign up to receive regular updates and other sources of information. The Head of Technology and Digital explained that the pandemic had made it vital for the Council to work differently in ensuring that its buildings would be fit for the future.  New ways of working had seen the need to install video conferencing facilities in some meeting rooms to allow hybrid meetings to take place whilst still being able to host normal meetings.  As part of a county wide Government programme, around 25 of the Council’s buildings had been connected to new ultrafast gigabit capable fibre and work was progressing on connecting more public assets across the District to the same ultrafast network.


In terms of next steps and in addition to completing some of the projects already started, the Digital Team’s focus would be to continue to improve the website and developing more interactive services that would encourage further digital take-up.


Responding to the presentation received, there was no doubt that the improvements made would provide a huge benefit to the District and would save money. However, as one in five people in Arun had a disability, thought still needed to be given to those who were vulnerable and unable to access services by digital means. The need for some to be able to continue with face to face appointments was vital especially in resolving more complex issues. The Council also needed to consider this in light of the District’s increasing and very high ageing population and in recognising Arun’s high levels of deprivation. In view of this what contingency plans were in place for when IT failed or in dealing with situations when the phone system was not working.


In response, it was outlined that the Council continued to offer customers services outside of the digital arena.  Members were reassured that resilience was built into systems to try to avoid systems going down. In this event, the Council would have to revert to more face to face contact. The key point to emphasise was that the Council attempted to make all of its services as accessible as possible and had reviewed accessibility issues in relaunching the website. 


            The Chair asked if a ‘My Arun’ portal could be introduced providing a one stop shop to residents and then directing them to other functions and services. It was explained that what was being requested was a central place where a customer could manage different accounts with Arun. A ‘My Arun’ option had been placed onto the web site to gauge interest, but this had not received any take up.  As there had not been the demand for this type of service, this had not been pursued and the time and money had been invested into providing other transactional services.  The Chair stated that as a Council would it not like to know where residents lived and to have on record their email addresses and other contact information to allow it to provide its services in more efficient ways. An example given was why the Council was continuing to send out by post Council Tax bills when there were other alternatives? It was felt that the Council should be pushing to try and get as many residents as possible to provide this information so that the Council could provide services in more efficient ways.


To assist, the Head of Technology and Digital explained that with the Council Tax portal, residents did sign up and could receive bills electronically. Similarly, residents were signing up to receive newsletters and notifications and the Council was introducing new portals allowing residents the opportunity to sign up to receive other information which the Council was harvesting and turning it into what customers wanted whether this was SMS messages and other ways of providing information. The new housing system could send residents text messages about appointments and emails about repairs and a new booking system was being launched soon. The message was that the Council did not feel that it needed the central portal to manage that.


            The Committee felt that the need to start the process of electronic communication was key but for those who wanted it.  In line with climate change reduction plans it was also important to move away from paper copy provision and to move to electronic systems where possible. A possible way forward to promote this was to insert a leaflet or supply information as part of the Council Tax bills next year to encourage residents to request an online bill the following year.

It would be important when capturing data and email addresses to make residents aware of the reason why their data was being captured and the need to consider and abide by General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). Residents also needed to be offered choice, paper, or digital alternatives. Members were reassured that all customers were told why and how their data was being stored in line with GDPR requirements.


This led to further discussion on the way in which Council Tax bills could be processed and delivered to customers.


            Following further discussion, Councillor Madeley then proposed the recommendation in the report and this was seconded by Councillor Bennet.


            The Committee




                        That the report be endorsed.


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