Angus Council has been told it risks widening inequality unless inclusivity is woven into the heart of its digital strategy.
The council’s digital strategy, which had been recommended for approval, has now been put on hold after concerns over accessibility were raised by the SNP group.
Monifieth and Sidlaw councillor Sheila Hands said the digital strategy did not set out how access to council services would be inclusive and warned of the potential to create a ‘two-tier’ system. Mrs Hands will now work with council officers on a new version.
She said: “I feel they were looking for as standardised a process as possible in terms of how they wanted people to access services.
“It wasn’t very well expressed how they were going to make access to council services inclusive and without having that commitment on paper there’s the potential for something to be lost.”
The strategy set out the vision and ambition “for digital services that are so good our customers prefer to use them”.
Face-to-face or telephone customer contact is only envisaged where “absolutely essential”, in which circumstances Skype will be the “preferred contact mode”.
Mrs Hands said: “It was very disappointing and shocking to read that people are going to have to justify that they have an absolute need for contact face to face or by a phone.
“We have the opportunity to improve council services but we don’t want to leave people behind and must ensure they have access to the same services as quickly as possible.
“It’s not just a disability-related issue – it’s an age-related one, it’s a poverty-related one and it’s also a geographical-related issue if your broadband is rubbish and you struggle to get online.
“If we don’t look at access in the wider meaning of the word then you have the potential to create a two-tier access system and people will get pretty annoyed with that and rightly so.”
Mrs Hands said sometimes people cannot or will not use the internet and will want to access services differently.
She added: “It’s about making the information accessible for people and encouraging them to do as much for themselves as they can.
“But we must also recognise that there will be some people out there who just can’t do it and what are they going to do to support them?”
Montrose SNP councillor Bill Duff said: “The episode with green bin payment a year or two ago was an example where not enough consideration had been given to those with access issues.
“Moving to digital, which we support, needs to be done with consideration for all council users, hence why we wanted the paper modified.”