After parish councillors criticised a money-saving move to axe eight Local Access Points around North Kesteven, claiming they were good value for money and supported vulnerable residents in outlying communities, the district council has responded, quoting declining visitor figures as justification for a change of policy.
In last week’s Standard, Heckington Parish Council chairman Jan Palmer called it “ludicrous” that the access points which offer a range of NKDC services, based in parish council offices, were to be scrapped from the end of March. She said they are still needed to help vulnerable people incapable of using online services. Instead NKDC wants to use some of the savings to develop and boost use of Digital Hubs, visiting communities once a week to help people become more confident about accessing council services online.
Executive member Coun Steve Clegg said the Local Access Points in Billinghay, Bassingham, Heckington, Metheringham, Navenby, Skellingthorpe, Waddington and Washingborough had been a great success over their 20-year life span, but advances in digital technology had led to falling attendances in recent times.
“The Access Points were introduced 20 years ago and people have told us how useful they found them. However, the cost of running the Access Points has now risen to more than £33,000 a year and footfall has fallen dramatically, so from April next year we are proposing to stop this funding and transfer some of it into developing our community/digital hub service which is very popular,” said Coun Clegg.
Over three years the district council says the cost per customer of providing the Local Access Points has escalated from an average of £10.69 in 2015/16 to £54.68 in 2018/19 as customer numbers across the eight locations have fallen from 4,032 to just 606 over the same period. In Heckington, users numbers have fallen from 266 to 198.
Withdrawing from the eight Local Access Points is projected to save £98,400 over three years.
Research has shown that advice and support in relation to planning and housing are the most popular services accessed by LAP customers, but planning is already working towards a paperless environment, with all applications available to view online, and housing services receiving more than 37,000 page views on the council’s website as, in the main, tenants self-serve to enquire into their rent balance, says the council.
“All of this indicates how people’s needs have changed and it is very telling that in a survey we carried out to explore what customers wanted we received 415 replies but only 16 of them were completed at Local Access Points,” said Coun Clegg.
The council already operates community/digital hubs in Ruskington, Heckington, Osbournby and Skellingthorpe and the authority is now planning to open two more by re-investing £16,313 of the savings achieved by closing the access points.
“The digital hub sessions are very popular and we have a 100 per cent satisfaction rate with customers telling us that they are learning new skills and increasing their confidence with computers.
“People have also told us that they have benefitted from a social environment and it is hoped that as the hubs progress they can contribute towards the reduction in social isolation that some older residents in our communities can feel,” Coun Clegg added.