Vulnerable people could miss out on vital services if Kirklees Council goes ahead with plans to close its two customer service centres, it is claimed.
The two public-facing facilities at Civic Centre III in Huddersfield and at Dewsbury Library help people access council services.
The two centres deal with more than 500 face-to-face interviews every week helping and advising on such matters as council tax issues, housing benefit, council housing, Blue Badges and bus passes for disabled people.
Kirklees Council is making the cuts as part of the £47 million savings needed to balance the 2024-25 budget.
But a council source warned that the centres provided a service to those who would otherwise struggle or “fall through the net.”
Staff believe the decision has been rushed through without proper consideration. The plan is that anyone needing help can access “digital and telephony support” at Huddersfield and Dewsbury libraries but there are concerns that library staff haven’t had the training customer service officers have.
The source said: “Whilst I appreciate the council’s need to cut costs from the budget this decision appears to do this at the expense of the vulnerable citizens of Kirklees.
“The closing of the centres seems to have been rushed and the impacts not considered at all and this needs a re-think.”
The Customer Service Centre at the Walsh Building in Dewsbury before its move to Dewsbury Library
Clr Bernard McGuin (Conservative, Almondbury) is also concerned and has been contacted by worried residents.
He said face-to-face help was vital and an elderly resident had told him he didn’t feel comfortable using the library for sensitive enquiries.
Clr McGuin added: “As the council is in such disarray owing to the withdrawal of services by Kirklees, I can foresee more help and advice will be needed in the future. But where will it come from?”
According to the council’s draft budget, the planned changes to the service will impact 32.5 full-time equivalent jobs in 2024-25 and another 14.5 the following year.
Clr Paul Davies (above), the council’s deputy leader and Cabinet member for corporate, said: “A key part of the council’s Access to Services Strategy is offering services to people at a local level and at a time and place that works for them.
“With this in mind, a report will be presented to Cabinet later this month that will propose an integration of customer service functions with local libraries.
“This would mean residents would be able to access more support services from a location closer to home rather than having to travel into town to visit a Customer Service Centre.
“The proposals also reflect the changes we have seen since the Covid pandemic where there has been a significant reduction in face-to-face enquiries as residents use digital means to increasingly access the support they require.
“If proposals are approved residents will still be able to access the support they need for a wide variety of things including access to IT and wi-fi help with completing forms and a Warm Space for elderly and vulnerable residents to come together.
“Digital and telephony support will be available to ensure residents can still access the support they need including for those people who are not digitally savvy.
“In a world of challenging local government finances, Kirklees Council will be presenting a balanced budget and this means we need to be more efficient in the way we deliver services to our residents.”