“Don’t forget the computer illiterate.” That was one Bedford councillor’s plea at a committee meeting yesterday (Thursday).
Labour Cllr Kay Burley (Kempston Central & East) was responding to an item on how Bedford Borough Council is becoming increasingly digital in its efforts to make £27.5 million in savings by 2023/2024.
Cllr Burley, whose own vision is impaired, said at the Budget and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee that she counted herself in the minority of people who aren’t computer literate.
“Not everybody is computer literate,” she said. “And I include myself in that to a certain extent. If you are not used to it, computers can be so overwhelming, and quite a lot of people don’t have computers.
“When people come to the council they don’t want assistance to use a computer to get what they need, they just want to talk to somebody.”
Cllr Burley said she “can’t see very well” and was being told to use emails. “We have to be aware of the different needs of people,” she added.
Mark Minion, the council’s chief officer for analytics, insight and performance, said: “We are not going to switch off the phones or close the contact centre. The post, email, and phones are still all there for people to use.”
Mr Minion added that more and more people were using online to make contact with the council, and more were expected to as extra services are turned digital.
He said that more than 92 per cent of benefits forms were now completed online, and there is an “appetite to complete them online”. He explained that some “smart” forms are much easier for people to complete online.
The committee was hearing about the move to digital, which is a key part of the council’s three year old BB2020 progamme to save £27.5 million by 2023/24. The move to digital is expected to save £9.3 million, even though £6.8 million is being invested into new technology to implement it.
Councillors were told that so far, the council has saved £13.6 million, or 59 per cent of its target. It is also doing other things like renegotiating contracts for supplies and services such as: mobile phones, construction, building and maintenance materials, and library software.