City council spends £18,000 on iPads

POLITICIANS and officials at the City Chambers are to be issued with free iPads at council taxpayers’ expense.All 58 councillors will be offered the Apple tablet computers and around 25 senior officials and other staff will also be given the devices.

All 58 councillors will be offered the Apple tablet computers and around 25 senior officials and other staff will also be given the devices.

The council says the iPad2s – which come with iTunes, camera and video – will cost around £18,000.

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A Wi-Fi system is being installed at the City Chambers at a further cost of £29,000.

Edinburgh is believed to be the first local authority in Scotland to buy in iPads.

The council says the move – which comes less than a month into the new administration – will save money because it will allow councillors to read committee agendas, reports and other documents electronically rather than having to be issued with printed copies.

But the main union at the council said there were more basic technology issues which should be dealt with first – and some councillors have already said they will not use the devices.

John Stevenson, president of the city council Unison branch, said: “They would be better looking at the computer system for everyone in the council and getting that fit for purpose because it’s not at the moment. It’s slow, clunky and you have to wait for ages to do anything.

“In lots of other local authorities, staff who are out and about have Blackberrys but Edinburgh doesn’t.

“I hope it’s a sign they are going to invest in the rest of the council’s infrastructure as well.”

The council said the switch from printed reports to iPads would be rolled out over the next few months. Eventually the printing of committee papers for councillors and senior officers will stop, though some papers may still be printed for members of the public attending meetings.

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Robert Oxley of campaign group TaxpayerScotland said: “Edinburgh City Council are right to want to save on paper – but the solution isn’t to spend tens of thousands of pounds on iPads for councillors.

“Taxpayers don’t mind paying for technology to help councillors do their job, but this is a premium product and there are cheaper options.

“This could have been trialled on a smaller scale.”

The council says it spends nearly £200,000 a year printing committee papers.

As well as being given to councillors, iPads will be issued to senior officers and other staff who regularly attend council meetings.

The council acknowledged it might not be possible to cut paper use completely, but said it expected the scheme would cover its costs in the first year.

The council said there would also be savings in back office costs as councillors using iPads became less reliant on secretarial staff.

The iPads decision dates back to before this month’s elections but has been accepted by the new administration.

Council leader Andrew Burns said: “We need to be a modern organisation that embraces technology, using it to save money and improve how we do business.”

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Alastair Maclean, director of corporate governance, added: “Such innovations are standard practice in the business world and we need to do the same. It also pays for itself in the first year and provides recurring benefits.”

Tory group leader Jeremy Balfour said councillors should have a choice of whether to take an iPad or continue to receive printed documents.

He said: “Anyone who gets an iPad should give a guarantee that they won’t ask for a set of papers or print them out. You can’t end up with people having iPads and printing things out as well or it won’t save any money.”

Long-serving Tory councillor Allan Jackson said he would stick to paper copies of reports. He said: “I prefer to read through the reports, earmark them, highlight passages and make notes in the margins at the meetings, then I can keep them for a while and look back and see what was said.”

The council said the iPads were the entry level model with 16gb storage and not 3G-enabled.

It said other tablets were considered, which might have proved cheaper, but the assessment was that the Good Reader software which will be used for viewing and annotating papers worked best on iPads.

A spokesman added: “Our assessment was also that iPads were better for general usability, security and future capabilities.”

He admitted there was nothing to stop councillors printing out reports.

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“As the papers are online anyone can print them off. However, even a 50 per cent cut in printing will save money. We will be working with members and others to ensure that the new way of working is effective and trying to continually reduce the amount of paper produced.

“We don’t expect meetings will become 100 per cent paperless and it will take some time for iPads to become established. A conservative estimate of reducing printing by 50 per cent will save around £100,000 per year, with the aim to reach at least 80 per cent within a few years. Overall, our projections are for this to save more than £400,000 over the next five years.”

On the call for other IT issues to be addressed, the spokesman said: “Mobile phones, including smart phones, are already used by staff who require them for business purposes and, if they don’t, the option is there for staff or managers to make a business case to get them.”

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