Action now needed to match West Lothian Council’s digital ambitions

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West Lothian Council is one of the first to develop digital services for customers, but plans need more investment in skills and equipment, say councillors.

Councillor Stuart Borrowman, chairman of the Performance Committee, won support from colleagues when he told Karen Cawte, digital transformation manager: “We are talking ambitiously but not acting ambitiously in what seems to be a critically important area.”

An update from Mrs Cawte on the council’s digital transformation.

There was criticism of training given to councillors and also on security, which blocked some councillors from using laptops or iPads.

Councillor Charles Kennedy described being cut off from the network without warning during a trip to Belfast.

Other criticisms highlighted difficulties in the public contacting councillors and council departments, and out-of-date information on web pages such as the planning portal.

Councillor Borrowman described the ten-year funding of £1.15m for digital transformation as modest and “unambitious”.

Mrs Cawte said that large sums did not need to be invested to improve systems – citing the development of simplified reporting systems for customers.

While automated reporting systems are relatively new to councils they are well established in private firms. 

The Mywestlothian self-service portal has 32,000 customers. Also, 12,000 parents now pay for school meals and trips online.

Other improvements will streamline services and save money. Currently the council spends £2.5m maintaining 230 different IT systems.

Councillor Carl John described customers waiting 21 minutes on the phone to the contact centre, only to be cut off.

“I don’t know whether we need more people there, but we should be sorting out our old technology first,” he added.

Mrs Cawte responded: “I accept what you are describing.”

She added that new software would allow customers to report things like missed bin collections automatically, freeing up contact centre staff to deal with more customers.

Stuart Sommerville - Local Democracy Reporting Service