FORMER Tory group leader Jeremy Balfour is set to be carpeted by council chiefs for playing solitaire during a committee meeting.
The Evening News revealed on Saturday how Councillor Balfour had been caught by the council’s webcam, playing the game on a taxpayer-funded iPad while fellow members of the petitions committee debated a call to ban cycling on pavements.
Today, a council spokesman said: “It will be raised with Cllr Balfour.”
Petitions committee convener Maggie Chapman said the episode should serve as a wake-up call to all councillors. She said Cllr Balfour’s behaviour during last week’s petitions committee was “not acceptable”.
She said: “We need to remember why we are here and at a time when the city has lost quite a lot of faith in its politicians, this does nothing to restore that.”
Cllr Chapman said it was all too common for some of the city’s elected representatives not to pay proper attention to what was going on at council meetings.
She said: “It’s quite obvious sometimes people are sitting there doing something else, whether it’s playing games, reading a newspaper online or checking their e-mails.
“There are certainly instances, especially in full council meetings, where some councillors have no idea where we are in the agenda and are not paying attention to the meeting.”
But some members of the committee were reluctant to criticise. The SNP’s Jim Orr and Liberal Democrat Paul Edie, who were sitting closest to Cllr Balfour, both declined to comment.
Cllr Balfour, who represents Corstorphine/Murrayfield, has apologised and promised there will be no repeat.
Cllr Chapman said she had not been aware of Cllr Balfour playing solitaire during the meeting until she saw it in the Evening News.
She said: “My reaction was ‘That’s a very silly thing to do’. As councillors, we should be paying attention during committee meetings. I know sometimes it doesn’t seem as if things are that interesting, but we are there to serve the people and we should be giving it our full attention, especially something like the petitions committee, where it is an opportunity for members of the public to come and talk to us as councillors.
“We’ve all been warned about it, that we’re on camera and that people can see our screens.
“We do have an uphill battle to really engage people and prove the council does listen, will take views seriously and is paying attention to needs of the city.
“That requires all 58 of us to be on the ball at meetings all the time.”
She said she would “have a word” with Cllr Balfour when she saw him next. She added: “I imagine at the next full council meeting the Lord Provost will probably say something as well, telling us to make sure we are all doing what we are supposed to be doing.”
Last year, Edinburgh became the first council in Scotland to issue all its members with iPads.
The £50,000 outlay was intended to save money by removing the need to print out agendas and reports for meetings.
Labour councillor Karen Keil said the iPads were “fantastic”. She said: “Everything I do is on the iPad. I use it exclusively for council work. It saves so much paper.”
The code of conduct for councillors requires them to “respect the chair, colleagues, council employees and any members of the public present during meetings”.
A council spokesman said if a member of the public believed there had been a breach of the code, it was a matter for them to raise with the Standards Commission.
The spokesman said when councillors were supplied with iPads, they were told “proportionate and sensible personal use” of the iPads was permitted, including downloads of games.
However, the council’s policy on information technology warns misuse or abuse of council systems or facilities can result in them being withdrawn.
What the rest of the committee has to say
Denis Dixon (SNP, Sighthill/Gorgie): “I was surprised he could find the time. He may have been listening attentively at the same time, but it’s not the thing to be doing in the middle of a meeting.”
Paul Edie (Lib Dem, Corstorphine/Murrayfield): No comment.
Nick Gardner (Lab, Leith Walk): “It was most unfortunate, it’s clearly not what the iPads are there for.”
Karen Keil (Lab, Drum Brae/Gyle): “When I was given an iPad as a new councillor it was revolutionary – I don’t work with paper any more. But it was dreadful he was playing a game on his iPad. He was stupid.”
David Key (SNP, Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart): Could not be contacted.
Jim Orr (SNP): No comment.
Lindsay Paterson (Con, Almond): “I’ve been on holiday. I’ve not had a chance to find out about it.”
Vicki Redpath (Lab, Forth): “It was very foolish. We are supposed to be listening and concentrating on the issue.”
A LEADING psychologist has poured scorn on claims that playing solitaire might “aid concentration”.
Defending the practice, Councillor Maureen Child said gaming might improve contributions to committee hearings.
She said on Twitter: “Might aid his concentration, like doodling? Humans can multi-task you know.”
Cary Cooper, professor of psychology at Lancaster University, said: “Doodling doesn’t require any cognitive complexity – it’s a stream of unconsciousness. If you are having to think about what you are doing, like playing a game, it could interfere with you being able to concentrate.”