A council has published a bold vision for ‘digital by design’ as online interactions with customers soared by 691% during lockdown.

Scottish Borders council is consulting with its population after new figures revealed a massive surge in digital demand following the impact of Covid on services.

Long-term data, according to a report, also showed a ‘continuing decline in footfall’ at the same time as a ‘significant increase in digital transactions’.

Data compiled for the three years before lockdown showed there was a 16% decline in the number of people accessing contact centres for face-to-face services and a 13% drop in people visiting libraries.

In the same 3-year period, there was a 16% increase in people choosing to access council services digitally. Similarly the library service saw an uptake of 173% in digital services.

Councillor Shona Haslam, leader of the council, said: “We know that the way that our residents and customers are engaging with frontline local services is changing and as a Council we need to respond to that

“This was happening pre-Covid but has rapidly accelerated through the pandemic. As we look to the future and our recovery from Covid-19 it is essential that the Council continues to meet these needs of customers and puts in place plans for the delivery of essential services in a way that is economically and environmentally sustainable.

“There will be no one-size-fits-all solution and that is why we will be engaging with communities right across the area from late summer/early autumn to understand in more depth what the local service needs are, how the community believe they could be met in future and what local solutions could be developed, including in partnership with others.

“When I worked for a charity we had a saying ‘Nothing about us, without us’. And that is key to this consultation. Communities are in the driving seat with this and we want to hear from everyone what is vital in their communities, where we should focus investment and what services are lacking in their towns, villages and communities.”

The council – working with arms-length culture and sports organisation Live Borders – said in a press statement that, ‘gone is the 9 to 5 culture’, and that access to services must be ‘simple, immediate, and in a way that meets the needs of all of our communities’. 

Councillor Scott Hamilton, executive member for transformation and service improvement, said: “This programme of work is another example of how local communities are empowered to have a say in the future of the area and Council services.

“We are keen to make sure that our future service delivery is flexible and accessible and that we continue to work with a wide range of partners, including our communities, to help each other and make smart investment decisions that will benefit us all in the long term.

“When the time comes it really is critical that communities and residents fully engage with the council, because it is only through high levels of participation that we can get a truly representative picture of local needs and then work together to meet them in the best way possible.

“It is important to emphasise that this work will progress at a speed which suits individual communities. This is in recognition that some communities may already be looking at local services and options, while for others this may be something new.”

Bill White, chair of Live Borders, added: “The last fifteen months has been very challenging, and the landscape we operate in continues to change. This also brings us the opportunity to look at new and exciting ways to deliver our services across the region. 

“We know how valued our services are to everyone in the community and I would encourage everyone to engage in the conversations to come, to give their views and to help develop services that are fit for purpose and sustainable.”

In a service redesign paper, the council commits to a ‘multi-channel approach’ based on face-to-face, – with investment in ‘fewer flexible, multi-purpose facilities’ – digital and telephone.