Should councils be buying Ipads?

UPDATE: A story in today’s (7/9/12) Telegraph, and most other papers, reports that 50 Ipads were claimed on expenses by MPs in the last year. I wrote this blog arguing that councils should be investing in technology for councillors and officers in July last year – I’m interested to know if opinion has since changed.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comment space below.

I came across this story in the New York Times over the weekend of a small US town buying Ipads for 16 staff (listed below). The article includes a q&a with Anthony Roberts, the town manager. Here are some of the best bits;

Q Why use iPads for your agendas?

A The short version is, unlike a lot of governments, we try to operate as much as a business as possible. At the end of the day, when you are printing agendas around 200 pages apiece and after the meeting they go into the recycling bin, you say, “Why are we doing it like this?” We have to run 20 agendas at 200 pages per agenda. That’s 4,000 pages just on that one, and that’s not including the time to put it together. And you usually don’t get it right the first time because everything changes. I would think it takes over eight hours per packet.

We see it as a money-saving measure. We see it as saving our taxpayers money.

Q Which town officials get an iPad and how much has it all cost?

A We’ve got 16, so multiply by $500. What’s that? $8,000. So the department heads all get one, the mayor, board members, the town clerk, police chief, the finance director and there are two I.T. guys.

Q You wouldn’t be doing this if you weren’t saving some money. How much are you looking at?

A We’re going to track the savings. We think about a year-and-a-half payback, max. [He said that estimate was based on what the town expected to save in paper, copying costs, personnel and other related items.]

Over recent months I’ve had three conversations with portfolio-holding councillors who have spoken of their desire for the council to buy tablets for elected member and key officers.

The barrier to this however seems more about style than cost – I believe that savings will be made up in the long-run and the technology can act as a cultural-nudge to get councils thinking and working more like the world around them.

But, as Cllr MacDonald said to me this morning

Buying Ipads would be bad PR indeed – Google ‘ipad council’ and have a look through the results.

I think this is a really interesting debate though – so what do you think?

Should councils be spending money on equipping members with the latest technology?

Should those who want them just buy them personally?

Are they a gimmick or potential game-changer?

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    1. Mark Grimshaw says:

      We’ve been trialling something similar for a small group of Councillors at Cheshire East and so far it seems to be a success. I agree with the comments about bad PR to some extent but surely there is the possibility of allowing Councillors to purchase them over a period of time using their expenses. The Council would then not be out of pocket in the long term and Councillors themselves would hardly notice a difference in their expenses.

    2. Simon Edwards says:


      You should check out Shropshire who have gone paperless for Cabinet members and some senior staff, have ridden the PR storm and seem to have emerged from the other side.  Mike Hyatt at Shropshire is going to talk about this at the next CCN ACCE AG (effectively Corporate Policy types) meeting in April. 

    3. There are two very good reasons buying iPads for councillors would be a bad PR move.

      First, the public perception of the device is of a luxury and leisure toy, rather than a serious working device like any old lap-tap. I would argue that perception is wrong (it can be both) but as a council is ultimately a political organisation it needs to take heed of public perception.

      Second, while the financial argument can stack up in some cases, there are lots more ways to make that saving. Does everything really have to printed? Does everything need to be delivered to councillors quite so frequently? Does it have to be an iPad, or can it be a cheaper option?

    4. Dave Briggs says:

      If the business case works out, then of course they should. The notion that employing innovative technology as an investment to save both time and money is ‘bad PR’ just goes to show how idiotic the reporting of local government is at times.

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