Council ‘spends £180,000’ on new tech for councillors

City Chambers on the Royal Mile. Picture: Alistair Linford
City Chambers on the Royal Mile. Picture: Alistair Linford
Have your say

THE cash-strapped city council has handed out new laptops, iPads and mobile phones to all 63 councillors following the local elections.

The devices were issued not only to newly-elected members, but also to returning councillors who already had some or all of the equipment.

Councillor Jeremy Balfour plays Solitaire on his iPad during a meeting - web CCTV grabs

Councillor Jeremy Balfour plays Solitaire on his iPad during a meeting - web CCTV grabs

Council chiefs justified the move as part of a refresh linked to a change in the authority’s IT contract.

But one senior source said: “Some members felt they didn’t actually need a new iPad, laptop or phone because the ones they had worked perfectly well.

“Members of the public will be extremely surprised to learn of this kind of lavish expenditure when the council is facing an ongoing squeeze on its finances.”

The council is making around £50 million of savings in this financial year and the council tax went up by 3p in the pound in April.

Community groups have had their grants cuts and library opening hours have been reduced.

But the worst is yet to come, with central government 
funding for councils expected to be at its tightest by 2019/20.

Willie Black, from the Power to the People group in North Edinburgh, said: “No-one is against new technology but this is something many people will take a dim view of.

“It’s not so much about the need for technology as about the timing of it. The council needs to be careful what it is doing at a time when money is tight and every councillor tells you how bad it is when you’re asking for people to be 

The city council signed a £186 million contract with Canadian IT giant CGI in 2015, replacing BT as the technology provider for seven years.

A council spokeswoman said it was not possible to say how much the new devices for the councillors were costing, but it was all part of the overall IT contract.

However, a basic calculation suggests the equipment could cost almost £180,000 at average retail prices.

The models are understood to be an iPhone Seven Plus, the latest version of the iPad and an HP EliteBook.

Experienced politicians re-elected to the council in May voiced surprise that they were being supplied with new devices when they already had council-issue phones, laptops and iPads.

One returning councillor said: “We pitched up on day one and all the stuff was sitting there waiting.

“Obviously you would expect new councillors to be given equipment, but I was quite surprised we were all getting it. I wasn’t aware of any suggestion that councillors were asking for new stuff.

“But the council changed its IT provider last year and there may be a reason to do with software why we are getting the new equipment.”

An undisclosed number of senior officials will also be issued with similar equipment in a further stage of the refresh starting next month.

The council introduced iPads for councillors five years ago as part of a move to paperless committee meetings. Councillors are now expected to take their tablets along to all meetings and consult reports and other documents online rather than leafing through bundles of paper reports.

The council said at the time the move would save around £200,000 a year on printing reports and about a million sheets of paper.

And councillors were quick to endorse the principle of making use of the available technology to make council business as efficient as possible.

Lib Dem group leader Robert Aldridge said: “It’s important people have the tools to do the job properly.”

And he said technology was particularly useful for those who were not full-time councillors.

“Councillors who also have employment elsewhere need to be able to manage their council business as efficiently as possible and the ipads and laptops make that possible.

“We used to get reams of paper sent out every day, which would be ridiculous now. This is a much more efficient way of operating.”

Mark Brown, new Tory councillor for Drum Brae/Gyle, said the technology was a boon to members in carrying out their duties. “I’m able to respond to constituents in a timely and efficient way by having reliable technology to do it,” he said.

And fellow Tory John McLellan, new councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston, said having council-supplied devices meant council work could be kept apart from everything else. “The iPhone and iPad in particular are proving very useful,” he said.

New Lib Dem councillor Hal Osler, who represents Inverleith said she recently had 4500 pages of documents to read. “The ability to do that via a mobile or a tablet is fantastic because you’re not having to waste resources. I’m very grateful for the technology – it saves me a lot of time and in the longer run it saves the council a lot of money.”

But technology also has its downside as former Tory councillor Jeremy Balfour, now a Lothians MSP, discovered when he was caught playing a game of solitaire on his iPad during a committee meeting.

A council spokeswoman said: “Councillors have been issued with new IT devices as part of a wider refresh for council staff to ensure they are able to access updated software. We have also requested that all old devices are returned and a reminder will be issued ensuring that this is done by the end of August.”

“We are refreshing IT equipment for council staff from September and this will take approximately six months.”