by Elgan Hearn
THE views of people who use council services need to be heard in a review of the new community hub model used by Blaenau Gwent, a report has said.
Community hubs as a concept were developed to provide services from libraries.
These services would usually have been available at the Civic Centre in Ebbw Vale and were suspended due to Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council’s decision to close the building.
The Civic Centre is being demolished and it is expected in the future that houses will be built on the site.
Audit Wales have just published it’s “Springing Forward” report on the county borough which looks at how Blaenau Gwent is “strengthening its ability to transform, adapt and maintain the delivery of services” from lessons learnt during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report includes criticism in the way Blaenau Gwent set up its community hubs without residents input.
Wales Audit said: “No public engagement took place because of the challenges of doing so during the pandemic.
“So, although the hub model appears to have several benefits for residents, the council lacks evidence to demonstrate that service users supported the changes.”
Audit Wales say that engagement with residents would have provided “useful” information on how to set up the hubs, the demand for services and what type of services users want.
The preferred locations for the hubs could also have been discussed explained Audit Wales.
In the latter half of 2021 the hubs were discussed at several council scrutiny and cabinet meetings
Councillors at the time said that the hubs were “proving successful” and allowing “everyone access to services.”
Audit Wales said: “Some feedback on the community hubs has been shared, this included detail on footfall during the first three months of opening, a summary of the main requests for help and case studies of the experiences of some hub users.
“However, the council has not yet formally sought the views of residents on the community hubs, so the report did not contain any data on service user satisfaction levels.
“It is also not clear what the council’s measure of success is for the hubs, both in the short and long term.”
Audit Wales now suggest the council asks for resident’s views to assess the need for “future refinements.”
A spokesman for Blaenau Gwent said: “The council needed to act quickly to set up community hubs to offer access to council services in local communities.
“Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic reduced the opportunity for formal consultation normally undertaken by the council, residents who visit the hubs are pleased with the service especially if they are unable to self-serve for a range of reasons or there are barriers including literacy issues; a lack of digital knowledge; language differences or physical or mental disability.
“The hubs complement the overall customer service offering from the council which includes a mix of online and face to face provision.
“Through our hub network we can now offer more choice and easier access to services for residents in the heart of their communities.”