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E-GOV SUPPLEMENT - LEADING BY MORE THAN A WHISKER

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Tameside MBC is leading the pack with its innovative approach to electronic services, says Margaret Oldham ...
Tameside MBC is leading the pack with its innovative approach to electronic services, says Margaret Oldham

A zeal for all things 'e' has made Tameside MBC the leader of the council techno-pack.

The forward-thinking council is the first in the country to offer 100% of services electronically via its award-winning website.

It has achieved the feat 26 months ahead of the 2005 e-government target and racked up a list of impressive firsts in the process.

In addition, Tameside achieved beacon status in 2001 for accessible services, due in no small part to the software that improved customer services.

To cap it all off, the council is ahead of its own public service agreement, signed in February 2001 and pledging to achieve 12 targets including developing a 100% transactional website by 2003 .

This has had a lot do with the council being an 'early bird', the project being led from the top - with strong political leadership - and even more to do with having a clear, agreed view of the future with members, officers and partner organisations working together to get there.

In the mid-1990s, Tameside made two strong political statements:

-- The customer comes first - a better-access-to-better-services strategy that established a front office, independent of service providers and supported by the same web-based technology whether contact was in person, by telephone or directly over the webn e-tameside - a partnership of public, private and voluntary sector organisations, with the ambition of giving the council's citizens and organisations the chance to prosper in the global knowledge economy.

The customer first strategy does away with the notion that each of the council's service units and service providers are separate entities. A resident calling in with a query about a museum service, for example, will speak to a member of the same team as another resident wishing to complain about their bin not being emptied.

The call centre team, based in Tameside's HQ, is backed up with a front-of-house team that is also available to answer customer queries and give advice face-to-face.

The interactive website software has been and continues to be developed in-house by a team of five specialists. A further team of five loads daily updates onto the site. And, around the organisation of around 9,500 staff, there are a couple of dozen, trained staff who regularly provide designed web pages for uploading.

Nine Customer Service Centres have also been established in each of the borough's main towns where residents can get information about any council service.

The council's e-tameside strategy has seen the establishment of a borough-wide broadband network to which all schools, colleges, customer contact centres, libraries, and its 34 community ICT learning centres are connected.

Members of the public can access thousands of pieces of council information at these In Touch centres over the internet on the council's website - the cream of Tameside's e-government strategy. Fromregistering a death to paying council tax, people in Tameside can do it all online.

The website is so popular that it gets up to 500,000 hits a week and more than 75,000 people now pay bills or order services via the site.

The council's e-envoy Margaret Oldham commented: 'The website software, designed by our own IT experts, is the integral element of the council's customer services system.

'It is the same software, the same information and the same forms, whether people log onto the website themselves, phone our call centre of visit any one of our In Touch centres.

'So millions of pieces of information are available to anyone - people and businesses in Tameside and our own staff - at the tap of a keyboard.'

Residents have eagerly snapped up a raft of information on a website so diverse that it offers the opportunity to order prints from a bank of more than 10,000 scanned photographs held by Tameside's Local History Library, to the ability to order and pay for a school meal - available at lunch-time the sa me day if ordered before 9am.

You can also order copies of your birth, marriage or death certificates, hire a skip or organise a visit from a pest control officer.

Businesses, too, have embraced Tameside's e-government strategy. E-procurement came online at the beginning of March and, to date, more than £1m worth of orders have been transacted via the internet.

So what of the future?

'There is still plenty left to achieve,' says Ms Oldham. 'We want to develop a local marketplace where Tameside businesses can access goods and supplies from each other. It is a way of boosting the economy and improving standards of living for the people in Tameside.'

And she added: 'We are proud to have come this far and excited about the future for Tameside.'

Margaret Oldham

E-envoy, Tameside MBC

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