As Horsham District Council considers slashing the terms and conditions of many staff, it is also assessing whether its elected councillors should be issued with Apple iPads in the future - paid for from the public purse.
The news has “outraged” at least one person with a connection with the council - who contacted the County Times about the trial.
iPads range in price up to £650 for a 64 gb device with wi-fi and cellular and are regarded as at the premium end of the tablet ranges available.
Other councils which have gone down the road of buying councillors iPads have faced a barrage of criticism, some of it in the national media, not least from the Taxpayers’ Alliance.
This week, as HDC looked at major cost saving changes to the pay and perks packages of many workers, a council spokesperson said: “Horsham District councillors use laptops or PCs to access Horsham District Council’s email and data systems and because of the need to do this via a secure system these can be slow or limited in their functionality.
“The council has been looking for some time at how this can be improved and part of this includes looking at newer technologies as they emerge.
“Experience at other councils appears to show that tablets may offer a better and more cost effective way forward given councillors’ need for more mobility and speed and that they would also save considerably on the cost of needing to print multiple copies of reports.
“However, any replacement for existing devices will need to offer the same strong system security. Other councils have found that currently the iPad is the most secure and easily manageable device for linking to corporate systems and that other tablets do not yet have sufficient security to satisfy connection standards.
“A limited trial is currently taking place with a number of devices to see how suitable they would be for council purposes but the technology on other devices is developing rapidly and we are keeping a watch on this.
“Any expansion of the current trial would be met from within existing budgets as part of the council’s normal ICT replacement programme.”
The County Times understands that to date four iPads have been purchased for the trial.
The council will be examining whether the devices enable paper savings and are more portable and efficient than laptops with no loss of functionality.
Currently councillors are entitled to a council laptop which can cost in the same range as an iPad.
We understand that there is absolutely no intention, even if the trial is a success, of rushing out and buying another 40 iPads for the other councillors.
If they were to be purchased, this would be done only when current laptops were due for replacement - and not all members would find them suitable, preferring the current arrangement.
The council believes the iPad is currently the only tablet that meets the government’s requirement on information security as they can be wiped remotely if lost or stolen - and that factor is forcing the decision on the Apple range at this stage rather than a less expensive brand.
Jonathan Isaby, Political Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “In order to have the moral authority to oversee necessary cuts in expenditure, councillors and council staff must ensure that any spending on themselves is necessary and delivering taxpayer value for money. Whether they need the taxpayer to provide them with brand new tablet computers and smartphones is open to debate, but what’s for sure is that people will be astounded to discover that many have been
issuing themselves with iPads.
“These are expensive, top-of-the-range, premium products and if they need a council-issue tablet or smartphone at all, they should be looking at the cheaper alternatives which are available.”
In alerting the County Times to the iPad trial, one person connected with the council who asked not to be identified said that it was “outrageous and completely insensitive that councillors should be looking at iPads for themselves at a time when they were considering slashing payments to hard-working and loyal staff who had helped to make Horsham District the special place it was in which to live and work.”
What do you think? Would this be a good use of resources or a waste of money. Add your comment below.
Not the first council
Horsham District Council is not the first local authority to make aves by considering purchasing iPads - seen as top of the range luxury tablets by some consumers - for its councillors at a time of cuts.
On August 3, 2010, headlined ‘From the town sacking 1,000 workers, an iPad for every councillor (at a cost of £40,000)’ the Daily Mail reported that Leicester City Council was planning to buy the Apple devices for each of its 54 councillors, at a cost to the taxpayer of nearly £40,000.
“Just last month, the authority revealed it would have to find £100m of savings and axe 1,000 jobs to cope with cuts in Whitehall funding over the next four years. But it emerged last night that the Labour-run council has ordered four of the tablet computers, which cost between £429 and £699 depending on specification, for a cross-party trial. And if the iPads are deemed a success, they will be rolled out to the other 50 councillors from next May.” the Mail claimed.
In February 2010, Cambridge City Council was criticised for earmarking up to £29,400 from their £250,000 ‘climate change’ budget to buy 42 of Apple’s latest gadget.
They claimed it would improve their eco-credentials by helping to get rid of some of the thousands of pages of printed documents used in meetings each year.
The criticisms were reported by the Daily Telegraph.
In October 2012, Wrexham councillors came under fire when they agreed to buy themselves new iPads which officials said would save thousands of pounds.The 52 members’ council laptops were six years old and IT officials said replacing them like-for-like would cost £36,400.
However, buying iPads at £450 each, with IT support, would cost £23,400. But the TaxPayers’ Alliance pressure group questioned the need for a “premium product” when alternatives were available.
The story was reported by the BBC.
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