Walsall's First Stop Shop decision defended

A decision not to reopen a front counter council service in Walsall town centre has been defended again as bosses look at overhauling assets.

Walsall Council’s cabinet agreed to carry out a strategic asset plan which will look at how property owned the authority is used and whether it needs to be retained or declared surplus to requirements.

But during Wednesday’s meeting, leader Mike Bird said they would be looking at a new way of delivering the First Stop Shop which meant people wouldn’t have to hike into the town centre to access services.

Calls have been growing to reopen the service in the Civic Centre, which has been closed since the outbreak of Covid in March 2020.

An online petition has been set up and opposition councillors argued people were missing out on much needed support such as housing and council tax rebate as they were unable to speak to officers face to face.

At cabinet, members were told new flexible ways of working had improved both delivery of services and residents’ satisfaction.

Councillor Bird said: “We have a substantial amount of property and during the pandemic it has become obvious we don’t require all of it.

“We are now going through a strategic asset plan which is looking at what is definitely required, what is maybe required and some which of course will be surplus to requirements.

“It will allow our workforce to work in a hybrid way, sometimes in the office, sometimes out and sometimes in third party premises.”

Councillor Ken Ferguson, portfolio holder for internal services said: “The customer focused way of working has been adopted by the council’s workforce.

“With this agile and flexible approach and the use of technology, performance and efficiency have improved and customer satisfaction rates amongst our residents have increased.”

Councillor Bird added: “There are those that think they know better than our residents and there has been a bit of noise in the system to open the first stop shop.

“We’re looking at that in a different way. Our residents don’t need to come to make that hike into Walsall, we’re taking services out to the people.

“That’s what the survey told us. They would like to see the services more accessible and using digital technology to do so.

“Not everybody has access to digital facilities so there will be provision for the face to face meeting.

“The Lichfield Street hub, based in the Library, is the place to go but wherever possible we would ask our residents at their request to access council services digitally at their convenience.”

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