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While 40% of councils provide a “good” or “very good” online service for residents to arrange for the collection of bulky waste, 16% have websites that are still not purposed for mobiles.
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These were the findings of a survey of 365 councils, carried out by the Socitm Better Connected programme, which analyses the digital performance of local authorities and other local public services.
According to the Better Connected report, local services such as leisure centres, libraries or bulky waste collections should require that third-party providers adhere to best practice when it comes to providing the digital part of the service.
This should hold regardless of whether the outsourced service provider is a private sector company, a community interest company or an organisation set up by former council staff.
Many councils no longer collect large unwanted items like beds or sofas themselves. Instead, collection of these items has been outsourced to charities or businesses. In many cases, providers will collect things free of charge if they can be recycled, charging only to take items away if they can’t be recycled.
However, the Better Connected report found that that some of the outsourced services lacked sufficient online information, such as which items could not be collected or recycled. Services could be made to be far more efficient and user-friendly.
Where local authority waste teams enter an outsourcing arrangement, they should make the provision of the digital service part of the discussion from the outset, according to the Better Connected report.
Better Connected identified a number of areas where improvements were needed, including listing items that can or cannot be collected, clarity on the number of items covered by one payment and providing sufficient information on advance bookings.
Read more about digital council services
In some cases, charging arrangements were overcomplicated or impractical, including those from the council that charges by “half or full lorry load” and another by timed 15-minute slots, both criteria that the resident cannot gauge themselves.
Better Connected warned that just one piece of missing or ambiguous information could lead to the enquirer having to call the council, creating an avoidable contact for the council and an inconvenience to the resident.
It suggested that some councils may be taking the view that residents will have to phone up anyway, since only 38% of councils enable online booking.
Moreover, some councils with online ordering require people to open a customer account to place their order. While registration may be beneficial, Better Connected suggested that forcing people to register was the wrong strategy. Service users are just as likely to respond by abandoning the online option and phoning the council, it stated.
It recommended registration as an option given at the end of the transaction, as is common practice with e-commerce sites, rather than at the beginning, when the applicant just wants to get on with the job.