The provision of services for residents in Croydon looks like being cut back even further, with 35 per cent of frontline staff in the customer service department being told on Wednesday that they are to be axed.
The cuts are likely to impact Council Tax-payers whenever they try to phone the council: those 10-minute or longer waits on the line that seem to have become routine in the past couple of years are about to get much, much longer, with jobs going from the telephone contact centre and the borough offices’ front desks.
“It is really getting desperate at Croydon Council now,” an inside source at the council told Inside Croydon.
The majority of customer service advisors and managers were called into meetings at council offices to be told the news. Those away on holiday will return to find a letter on their door mats. The now familiar process of seeking volunteers for redundancy is under way, although there could well be fewer takers than in the past.
When the last round of job cuts at the council was announced, around 18 months ago, there were many applicants for voluntary redundancy from the customer services department, eager to take the terms then on offer. Inside Croydon understands that almost all were turned down on that occasion.
Since then, many staff, most of whom are already low-paid, have been forced into agreeing to have their terms of employment reduced. Thus the redundancy terms available this time around will offer much less cushioning to the blow of losing their jobs.
Inside Croydon understands that there seems to be no cuts to the posts for senior management. No surprise there, then…
In this “restructure” of the department (a sinister euphemism, devised to cope with the requirements of employment law),
- The number of advisors is to be cut from around 100 to 65 posts (although there are 11 posts unfilled at present).
- The number of junior manager positions to be reduced from 10 to 6.
- Three new positions are being created, though Croydon Council had not responded to our enquiries to detail the nature of these roles.
The rationale behind this cut-back in direct contact service with the public is that the council wants to get more Council Tax-payers to “self-serve”, using the council website, instead of actually speaking to another human being with the appropriate knowledge.
An example of the new drive towards self service is the new housing tool that everyone is now required to complete before they can seek housing assistance.
Of course, one side effect of this may be that those who do not have access to a computer or are not confident using computers, ill-educated or for whom English is not their first language – all often the poorest in society – may be deterred from trying to claim what help is available to them. It could almost appear as if these latest cut-backs at Croydon Council have been introduced deliberately to disadvantage the disadvantaged.
And this could be most hard-felt with the localisation of Council Tax, the staff cuts coming when the council is about to introduce massive reductions in benefits, leaving many vulnerable people with no one to turn to for advice at the council.
The reduction in staff numbers also emphasises again the ludicrousness of spending £145million on the new “Council Service Hub”; by the time Croydon Council’s shiny new headquarters building is due to be completed, with its £1 million-worth of furnishings, chief executive Jon Rouse and his deputy, Jedward lookalike Nathan Elvery, could be the only ones left to work there.
“It will be interesting to see how this reduction of service pans out to actual service provided,” our source said.
“I can only imagine the frustrated customers who are unable to get through on the phone, turning up to the nightmare that is ‘Access Croydon’ to find that they have to wait an hour or so to be told that they have to use the self service PCs…”
Some inside the council believe that, as with the public library service, this round of job cuts is the next step towards seeking to outsource the council customer services altogether. That will get a hefty chunk of money off the council’s annual budget, for sure, but past experience suggests it will come with a woeful decline in service.
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