Look how shiny...
“They gave them what?”
This was what Mrs WLLG practically shouted at me, through a mouthful of food, while during our evening meal I related a story about Local Government I had seen on the net. The story was about the London Borough of Havering giving 17 of their Councillors I-pads. They were also looking at providing the said gadget to all their Councillors.
These were not being given as prizes for becoming a Councillor but were to help the Councillors in their duties as a Councillor. This of course is all happening at the time of cuts to the Council’s budget and job losses amongst its officers. This isn’t the first time a Council has given I-pads to Councillors. A year ago Leicester City Council did a similar thing.
Now Mrs WLLG’s response is understandable. After all these Councils are giving these Members a bit of technology many adults would kill to have. However both Councils have, in a round about way, given the same answer to Mrs WLLG’s food spluttered question; “Madam, this will save us money by cutting down our printing costs.”
This got me wondering, well roughly how much will this save in printing costs? So I thought I would do some rough calculations (these are rough and I have no idea if these are anything like the figures the two Councils above have worked out). Here they are:
So according to the printer at work each printed page I print in black and white costs 4p. I’m going to assume that this is the case for any page of an agenda the Council prints (I recognise that there are difficulties with this assumption but I have to start somewhere).
Looking at my local Council’s latest Cabinet agenda it was 376 pages long, the month before it was 571 pages long, the month before that it was 931 pages (wow, the Officers in my local Council must write looooong reports…and we wonder why Councillors don’t read our reports?) and the month before that it was 466. So over a four month period, the Cabinet report was on average 586 pages long. That means on average , in that four month period, it would have cost my Council £23.44 to print one agenda.
However, as I work with Councillors, I know I have to provide one copy of an agenda per Councillor at the meeting. I also need about 5 extra copies, one for the files and the others in case anyone (Councillor, public or press) needs a hard copy. So according to the minutes there are 12 Councillors expected at Cabinet (that’s 8 Cabinet Members and 4 Junior Cabinet Members).
So I reckon that over that four month period, on average, the Council spent £398.48 per month to provide 17 printed copies of the Cabinet Agenda to the Councillors. This, I think, means that in a year the Council could be spending £4383.28 on Cabinet agendas (Cabinet is a monthly meeting but I assume it doesn’t meet over the August Recess).
So for one monthly public meeting, if the Council could get away with not printing its agendas, it could save about £4383.28. Not millions, but then again not something to be sneezed at, especially as there are so many meetings for Councillors other than Cabinet (think Full Council, Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Planning Committee). However there are a few caveats to this figure. I have chosen the meeting that would probably get the most reports each month and so would have the biggest agendas. So not every public meeting with Councillors would save this much money over a year, but surely it adds up.
Also, we can’t completely get rid of paper agendas for public meetings, as in the interest of accessibility and accountability, agendas should be available for those in the public who don’t have a computer. Yet, these figures still suggest the I-pads could save some money.
Yet I’m not completely sold.
Mrs WLLG’s response is still valid. After all does it have to be a shiny new I-pad, can’t it be any type of tablet computer, maybe one cheaper than an I-pad?
Basically, for me, this issue of the I-pad is part of a wider conversation about what Councillors are provided with to complete their job as a Councillor. I know Officers and Residents who are shocked to find that some Councils give their Councillors Blackberries and Laptops.
Now I believe the Councillors do need these modern tools, as they are (or should be), trying to deal with their case loads, read reports, meet residents, involved in meetings, lobbying on behalf of their constituents while often holding down a full-time job.
These tools help that, but I think there are some rules concerning I-pads and all these techy tools that Councils should comply to when giving stuff to Councillors. Here are my top four:
- These tools should never become a perk of being a Councillor. So to ensure they are tools, a business case for why Councillors need them should be put forward that shows how they can be used as tools to further the Councillor’s work.
- Use some procurement sense. As with a contract, work out your options and find the model that offers value for money for the Council. So would another tablet Computer be able to do the required job, instead of the fancy and fashionable I-pad?
- If the Councillor breaks it, through misuse by them, then they cover the costs. At the end of the day its the Council’s property not theirs.
- This one is not a rule, more a suggestion/question. I’m not sure it would work but could the Council do a similar thing with I-pads that the Cycle to work scheme does? So the Council buys the I-pad and slowly the Councillor buys off the Council, if they want it. Though I suppose it wouldn’t be tax-free like the cycle scheme.
Of course at the end of the day, Miss WLLG was just jealous….of how good I looked with mashed potato splatted on my face.
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