FLINTSHIRE Council could begin using artificial intelligence to answer basic queries from residents.

The authority’s chief governance officer Gareth Owens told councillors that the use of AI could be explored to help with short-staffing in the county’s Connects Centres and help deal with the volume of calls staff are dealing with.

At a meeting of the council’s corporate resources scrutiny committee, councillors discussed frustration which has been shared by residents at being unable to get answers, or have their queries answered when contacting the centres.

Connects Centres are based in Buckley, Connah’s Quay, Flint, Mold and Holywell where staff help the public and vulnerable individuals who find it difficult to access services online or by phone.

They support people with issues ranging from council tax and Universal Credit to birth declarations and blue badges.

But since the pandemic councillors have become concerned that the turnover of staff has led to residents not receiving the service they should expect, which was emphasised at the meeting by Connah’s Quay Central Cllr Bernie Attridge (Ind).

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He said: “If members are getting passed from pillar to post members of the public have no chance.”

Northop Cllr Linda Thew (Ind) said she felt sympathy for the staff and the volume of queries they receive, and asked if AI could be used to reduce the burden.

“Historically there’s always been a staffing issue”, she said.

“I think there’s an awful lot of expectation on the staff to know so much about so many different things, it’s a really difficult job to know about every department and every aspect.

“People really get disheartened working in the Connect Centres because they’re bombarded with so many queries, it’s a really difficult job.

“I don’t know whether we’re thinking of going down the artificial intelligence route to field general questions?

“Obviously personal contact is the best but I’m wondering if that’s the way we’re viewing things at the moment.”

Chief officer for governance Mr Owens confirmed that chat bots, of which ChatGPT is possibly the most high-profile example, could be used.

He said: “Chat bots are artificial intelligence. They’ll answer basic queries.

“They can’t replace a live individual but many people just want to ask a simple question and that can be answered for them by something other than a human being.”

Although potentially exploring the use of AI, Cllr Attridge brought up the council’s use of social media and again highlighted its lack of a Facebook page.

He said: “I’ll say it again, I’ve been saying it for the last 10 years regarding social media and Facebook.

“There’s millions and millions of our customers on Facebook and I get embarrassed explaining why in the 21st century Flintshire County Council isn’t on the social media platform.”