No reader of the County Times last week could have avoided numerous uses of the word ‘iPad’ since it appeared on two news pages and in the editorial in connection with the Council. Readers were asked to give opinions as to whether councillors should have the use of iPads. I am writing this before we will know what the public reaction to this question is but if you have an open mind on this matter let me put to you a scenario.
Imagine for a moment that a company has workers who primarily work from home and who come into the office maybe just 3 or 4 times a week, that it pays these workers for a typical 16-20 hour week an annual salary of £4665 and that from this the worker pays for his own telephone, broadband connection, any printing costs and clearly has to use his own electricity and heating. A major part of his job will be dealing with emails. I doubt that anyone would think then that on top of this he should from his salary provide his own computer to do the job and so one presumes that the firm would provide him with the fastest, most efficient and cost effective way of doing the work he is given. Now for ‘company’ substitute ‘council’ for ‘salary’ substitute ‘allowance’ and for ‘worker’ substitute ‘councillor’ and you have exactly the scenario that prevails at the District Council. That allowance is by the way taxable!
At Horsham District Council (HDC) it has for many years long been considered reasonable to provide councillors when they join with a laptop to do their work. Some councillors have chosen to use their own PCs instead. However, access to Council emails is not direct and is done via a security system that uses a broadband connection to HDC and there is a need for a special set of security codes to be used. Councillors frequently claim the system to be slow and too cumbersome.
The idea of trialing iPads to see if they would do the job better is not, as any reader might have thought from last week’s paper, a new one that has just popped up. Two councillors have been provided with them – I am one of them while several others keen to make their lives easier as soon as possible have bought their own. I have been using an iPad since last autumn. I get typically 60 emails a day and I do as Council Leader (according to my wife!) over 40 hour week which will see me responding to emails at all times of the day and into the evening. Six members of staff also have use of iPads. They are associated with business services departments or need to access emails late into the evening or when working away from the office.
Our conclusions from our trial are that iPads are no more expensive than laptops (as a quick look at any computer retailer’s website will reveal). Since they have built-in security, they enable emails to be actioned without broadband and can be used wherever we happen to be to give us instant access to what is going on. They also provide a means of carrying a whole lot less paper and so offer the opportunity to cut down on the Council’s huge printing bill. We may well be able to reduce the high Microsoft licence fees that we pay with laptops. If a councillor prefers a laptop then no one is suggesting it has to be changed, and finally there is no intention of a sudden rush to iPads. Currently no other tablet device provides the necessary security but if and when it does, it will be looked at.
I am not here to do a job of selling iPads - Apple do that well enough themselves - but my experience of using the iPad is that it has transformed the way that I can do my job. It has limitations but for me they are minor compared with the advantages. Other councils have, I know, issued iPads to staff and members where the job can be done more efficiently. So should HDC as it looks for greater efficiencies not go down this route too?