Council boss urges staff not to answer calls to the switchboard too quickly amid hopes that residents will be driven online instead

A council boss believes calls to his switchboard should not be answered too quickly – and hopes that residents will be driven online instead.

Average call-answering times at North Yorkshire County Council have been slashed from 84 seconds to just 38 seconds, a meeting of its executive cabinet was told.

But Councillor Greg White, who is in charge of customer engagement, said that no further improvement in answering times should be attempted because the target of 70 per cent of s being made online by 2020 was short at only 11.3 per cent.

He said: ‘The county council is convinced that the best way we can offer quality services to our customers and residents is through our digital channels. We must make sure that we are not so quick at answering the phone that we frustrate that ambition.’

His comments prompted a sharp reminder from campaigners for the elderly that not everyone can access the internet. ‘Public services should always offer multiple ways of ing them, especially via the phone to ensure those who are offline don’t miss out,’ said Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK.

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Councillor Derek Bastiman echoed her concerns. He said: ‘I would hate for people to be disadvantaged because we don’t answer the phone soon enough and that everybody has the opportunity to ring in and make complaints or make comments.’

Mr White said provision was in place to help people get online at libraries with support from staff.

The Mail on Sunday called Mr White for clarification, but his voicemail was full. ed by email, he called back and said: ‘I stand by my comments but perhaps they could have been more nuanced.

‘We do get a lot of people calling to ask things such as the date of school holidays, which would be much better done online.

‘I think phones should be answered promptly, but I was just saying we don’t need to put more resources into improving the answering time.

‘Some people getting in touch by phone might want to report safeguarding issues to social services and it’s imperative that calls like that get through quickly, and the best way to do that is to encourage much of the other traffic online.’