It’s clear that effective digitisation and self-serve capabilities can help to support and deliver frontline services.
Equally no local authority wants to be a faceless and soulless entity residing in a virtual online world, removed from the practicalities of everyday life.
To be truly effective, every council knows that a friendly, responsive, supportive and assistive presence in everything it does is welcomed. Online solutions can go a long way in helping to achieve this. But we shouldn’t allow the new digital agenda to dominate how we help to support our citizens.
Face-to-face interaction is crucial for creating goodwill, empathy and engagement, the core human qualities that are the building blocks of positive relationships with our communities.
The most digitally advanced authorities still require telephone interaction and a ‘front’ service desk capable of embodying the council’s commitment for service excellence. More and more, our communities need a blend of technology and the human touch.
Every person responsible for delivering a council service is an ambassador, so it’s essential they play their part in creating a positive experience for citizens. And one service area that reaches out into the community more visibly and more completely than any other is civil enforcement.
Here, whether delivered by the private or public sector, uniformed council representatives are helping to keep traffic flowing, our streets safe and to ensure our town and city centres are accessible to everyone. Put simply, they are there to encourage and optimise compliance in the best interests of local people, local businesses and local places.
Far from being just ‘enforcers’, with the right training and supported with the right technologies they are the voices, eyes and ears of the council, offering advice on parking and public transport, encouraging compliance, as well as gaining community insight, reporting antisocial behaviour and identifying faults with council equipment. And they’re right out there in the heart of local communities.
Not harnessing the potential of such a precious resource for building and strengthening the council’s relationship with local communities is not just short-sighted; it’s putting unrealistic pressure on other arm’s-length customer service areas to deliver a positive experience for citizens.
The civil enforcement officer is all too often an untapped and undervalued resource that has, for too long, just been associated with the negativity of penalisation. Times have changed. Perhaps they should now be referred to as compliance engagement officers.
Mark Hoskin, executive director for local government, NSL