Ages ago I – sort of – defended Cambridge City Council against the allegation they were ‘wasting money on iPads’. The story was that they were looking at spending thousands of pounds equipping their councillors with iPads to save money on printing.
My contention was that it was possible this would, actually, be a way of saving money and providing a better service to the taxpayer. Now, at a time when I am still a councillor, and have become an iPad owning councillor (not paid for by the taxpayer), the inevitable has happened and Leicester City Council have given some of their councillors iPads as a trial.
And I’ve changed my mind. It’s a waste of public money.
The story has appeared in a few national papers. I’ll point to the local paper’s coverage where a similar argument to my own back in February is being given. Apparently the £40,000 cost will potentially save the council £90,000 a year in printing costs. Now that, in itself, seems a little excessive. It would equate to £1,667 of printing per councillor per year. Even conservatively estimating a cost of 10p per double sided sheet we’re looking at over 33,000 pages of documents per councillor. That’s 90 pages of reading per day. While I get a lot of paper, I don’t get anything like that over a course of a year.
Even if that was accurate. It would have to be one of the least efficient bulk printing set-ups in the country. And does raise some questions. Would it be more cost effective to look at how they print? And who the hell is writing all this stuff? And who is actually reading it?
But there are broader concerns. Would the iPad actually help the councillors become more efficient? I suspect not. Much as I love mine (and am writing this on it), there are some things for which paper is just better. Are they seriously going to make notes on them, when it is so much easier to do on paper than on an iPad? Are none of them going to want to flick through reports, which isn’t as easy on a screen as it is with a wodge of paper? And are Leicester councillors really such a technophile bunch (in Wandsworth we’ve only just got a full set of councillors on email, in 2010) they are ready for electronic-only business?
But there is a more fundamental point behind all this. It’s the deficit.
Even if there were a strong argument for giving iPads to all their councillors it still smacks of providing them with toys at a time others are seeing job losses and cuts in services. While I often rail against the Daily Mail and Taxpayers Alliance mentality that any spending is necessarily bad I cannot help but agree with them on this one.
It’s very very hard to justify buying everyone top-of-the-range iPads (and they all seem to have gone for the top model – presumably to hold 60GB of documents, rather than music or films) at a time when we are all having to making savings. And if it’s difficult to justify financially, it’s near impossible to justify morally.