Technology ‘making it harder to complain’

Councillor Stuart Marshall

Councillor Stuart Marshall

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Councillors should be the first port of call for residents with an axe to grind against Scottish Borders Council rather than an online form, according to Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall.

Mr Marshall, an independent, fears the relationship between councillors and the public they represent is being compromised by new technology and that it is making it harder, rather than easier, for people to have their say about issues of concern to them.

He is concerned that more and more Borderers are being encouraged by the council to use its new website to make complaints online.

Citing the case of a woman in his ward who contacted him recently “at the end of her tether” because of persistent dog fouling outside her home, he said: “As I have done many times for people who ask me to help, I contacted the appropriate department at Newtown, copying them into the woman’s complaint.

“I was expecting a response but was perturbed to learn that, unbeknown to me, she was told by someone at the council to go to its website to log her complaint.

“When she tried to do so, she was faced with an eight-page online form which she found too complicated and daunting to fill in.

“She was understandably not happy and told me so.

“Apart from the fact that not everyone has the internet, what worries me is that councillors could become sidelined and more detached from the people they represent.

“To do the job properly and to push to make things better for our constituents, we need to know from them what’s going on in the ward, whether it’s potholes in the road, street lights not working or dog fouling.

“I hope that local councillors remain the first point of contact for the Borders public. After all, it’s what we are paid to do.”

A spokesperson for the council told the Southern: “The council is encouraging members of the public to use its new website to report issues such as pot holes, street lighting or dog fouling.

“More of the Borders public wants to contact us using our website, which has resulted in the council investing in digital services to improve the customer experience.

“However, the council understands that not all people wish to use or have access to our digital service and, as a result, the public can still report a dog fouling incident by calling 0300 100 1800, visiting a contact centre or contacting a councillor.”