�1.6m to change Norwich council numbers

Bosses at Norwich City Council are set to spend �1.6m on a new system which will see the contact number for City Hall services change again – for the third time in three years.

Council bosses say the change will help drive down call wait times and provide a more efficient service, with people able to call an 01603 number rather than the current 0344.

They say it will end up saving �1.7, but critics have questioned why so much money is being spent when the numbers were only changed in August last year and in July the year before that.

Cabinet members will meet next Wednesday (December 8) to discuss a report outlining plans to introduce a new integrated customer contact system which officers say will deliver 'marked improvements' on the existing one.

The proposal is to buy an integrated customer contact system which will deal with all forms of inquiry at the first point of contact – whether by telephone, email, web inquiry, text or letter.

Officers say that if members approve the introduction of the new system it will help customer contact staff to respond to more customers first time.

They say it would also make new features available, and allow customers to self-serve, with many more services over the internet, and text messages sent ahead of due payments.

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Cabinet will be asked to approve the purchase on a 'spend to save' basis, which should see the system become cost neutral after five years.

The project would require a one-off investment of �735,000 in the first year, and an additional �184,000 in support costs each year over the five year contract (a total of �1.6m).

Under the proposed plans the council would switch to a 01603 number, saving around �50,000 per year as it would no longer have to pay a service fee for all calls it receives by using an 0344 number.

Customer feedback has shown that using a 01603 number would be popular as calls to local numbers are often allowed as part of inclusive calls packages.

Officers say the total amount of savings identified over the five-year period is estimated at �1.7m.

Sue Sands, cabinet member for wellbeing, said: 'The benefits to customers are clear – call wait times will reduce, calls to a local number can be made as part of calls packages and the various channels customers choose to contact us by will become more efficient.

'From a financial point of view the council should recover all its costs after five years.'

The need to find an alternative software system arose because the current software is no longer supported by the supplier.

Claire Stephenson, leader of the Green Party, said: 'It is good that they are going back to an 01603 number, but I am concerned that there have been so many changes in recent years.'