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Idea Stores trialling new digital hubs

New technology will be trialled in Tower Hamlets Council’s Idea Stores to help more residents to access services and complete transactions online

Increasingly more and more people are managing their lives online; be it browsing for information, shopping online or using internet banking, and council services should be no different.

The council is working on moving more of its services online. In the coming months this will include: parking permits; purchasing visitor parking scratch cards; bulky waste collection; housing options; pest control services; and benefits and registrar services such as births, deaths and marriages. Other services will follow suit in the coming months.

While residents will be able to access these services using devices at home or on the move, the council is creating digital hubs in its five Idea Stores for those that don’t have computer equipment or need support.

The digital hubs will be a welcoming environment with benches, tables with tablets, computers, scanners and free WiFi

The hubs will also be a place where people can learn new IT skills, and in time there will be information sessions on issues such as social media safety and online security.

Save time, go online

Currently some people face waiting on the phone or queuing in One Stop Shops to complete requests and payments for council services.

Demand for services has increased over the years and the council now receives over 400,000 calls a year, with 54 per cent of residents saying it is difficult to get through. The average call or face to face contact costs the taxpayer between £6 and £10.

With increased pressures and continued cuts to our budget, the move to more digital services will save money and free up capacity to protect other services.

The Government has cut the council’s core funding by £148 million since 2010. In addition, it has to save a further £44m by 2022.

Investment in our Idea Stores

Sixteen years ago, the council paved the way for one of the country’s most advanced library models in its Idea Stores.

Around two million people a year use them, and many depend on them for council support and advice, training and family activities.

At a time when libraries are closing, the council is bucking the trend by investing in its Idea Stores. It will continue to support communities with spaces for meetings, learning, story time and reading.

For those who need help going online, staff will be available to guide and support them. The council will also be increasing the number of hours of support and help on offer to access services.

Digital hubs

Over the coming months, the borough’s five Idea Stores will be undergoing refurbishment to create the digital hubs.

Works have begun in the Idea Stores and all of them, except Idea Store Chrisp Street, will remain open while the works take place.

Idea Store Chrisp Street will be closed temporarily for refurbishment from 2 May and a reduced library service will be operating on the other side of the road at Poplar Baths leisure centre.

All books which have been borrowed from Idea Store Chrisp Street after 11 April and not returned before 1 May, will need to be returned to Poplar Baths or any other Idea Store. During the refurbishment all adult learning classes will be held at the Shadwell Centre and Idea Store Chrisp Street will reopen on 20 July.

The first digital hub will be trialled at Idea Store Whitechapel on 7 May. The next one will ready at the end of May in Idea Store Bow. The others will roll out over the course of the year.

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets said: “Our Idea Stores offer a vital resource and I’m delighted that despite the funding pressures we are investing in them. As mayor, I’m protecting frontline services that matter to our residents. We want to ensure council services keep up with the way our residents want to access services and our Ideas Stores will play a key role in this. The new digital hubs will offer advice and support from our Idea Store staff to help resident’s get online.”

Councillor Amina Ali, Cabinet Member for Culture, Arts and Brexit said: “With two million people a year visiting our Idea Stores, what better place to create our digital hubs to provide support for those that need it. Rather than queue up or be on hold on the phone, residents want to be empowered to easily access services and we are offering them support to do this while continuing to invest in our Idea Stores’’