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£1.4k for Councillor iPad cases – but overall savings made with move towards paperless working

Rolling out iPads to Councillors cost £18.5k rather than the planned £32k, and printing that used to cost £36k a year is down to £3.5k and dropping.

As readers of Wrexham.com will be aware, councillors were given iPads back in 2012 following a review of the ICT provision at the council.

At the time Wrexham Council was spending £36,000 a year on printing the often bulky meeting reports / agendas, with the iPads introduced in a bid to cut printing costs and help move the local authority into the digital age.

Last December a review of the iPads took place, with estimates at the time that £32,000 would need to be spent upgrading the current models for new and returning councillors after the May election.

An update on the iPad cost and the amount spent on printing in the past 12 months and how much was spent replacing the iPads was provided to members of the Democratic Services Committee last week.

Contact officer for the committee, Sioned Wyn Davies, told members that following the introduction of iPads five years ago the annual printing costs of meeting agendas is down significantly. It was also noted that the cost of printing the agendas this year will be down to around £3,500.

However two councillors on the committee queried why they were no longer allowed paper copies, stating that it was easier for them to chair their committee meetings with the documents in front of them.

Chairman of the Democratic Services Committee, Cllr Malcolm King, said: “A number of members have expressed frustration at not being able to get paper copies. I think this is an appropriate place to consider the advantages and disadvantages.”

Commenting on being unable to get a printed agenda, Cllr Derek Wright, who is chairman of the Safeguarding, Communities and Well-being Scrutiny Committee,, said: “I would like to know where this decision was made as up until May if we requested paper copies we could have one.

“I became chairman in May and asked for a copy and was told I couldn’t have one. The only time I have requested is when I chair a meeting. I feel I need a copy, it is much easier to have paper copies to know where you are.”

The contact officer pointed out that the decision had been made to “encourage the new administration to rely more on digital” and that the head of corporate and customer services had introduced refusing routine requests and limiting printed copies to where there was a justification.

Cllr Derek Wright reasked the question on who made the decision, but did not get an answer.

One suggestion put forward by Cllr Andrew Atkinson was that members print the documents off at home and bring them in, rather than a member of council staff doing it for them, a view that did not appear to get much support.

Cllr Atkinson said: “I think the iPads are great, they save a lot of money on paper and ink. It is remarkably easy for anyone to pay for it and some members do.

“I would say that for any committee chair, call me old fashioned, but you’re on £22,000 a year, press print at home and bring it in yourself.

“We have just been discussing a £200 pay rise. If we print our own out and bring it in ourselves, it’s not a lot of money to take out what has has been described as a generous allowance.”

Cllr Dana Davies queried if councillors could be billed for having documents printed off by the council, stating that she had been told it was not possible.

She continued: “When I asked if I could pay for my own paper copy, I was told I couldn’t because of detail within the Independent Renumeration Panel Wales (IRPW) where the council have to be provided with certain facilities.

“It is not common sense to ask to have a bill and be charged. If there was an option of what we can’t get on our iPad or have difficulty, or an option of not medical reasons but a preference, to support the council we could have the bill? Rather than a straightforward no you cannot have a copy.”

The contact officer stated that the IRPW has “strong views” on councillors not being put in a situation for their own costs in terms of paying for printing at the council. It was also noted that if a bill was sent by a councillor for the printing, it would create an additional cost of raising an invoice and billing someone.

One method in making the iPad system easier was raised by Cllr Michael Dixon, who said that while he likes the system and prints his own copies at home, often the page numbers on some of the reports don’t match up between the two systems.

Comments were also made on iPad cases, which cost Wrexham Council over £1400 to purchase this year.

Cllr Atkinson queried why the covers couldn’t be purchased by individual councillors, pointing out that some had paid for their own iPads once elected and that a trip to the poundshop could result in better value.

He added: “When I was a councillor in a different authority, we went and got our own cases.

“It’s £1430, if you look in the Difficult Decisions document there are lots around that some of money for different things spent in communities.”

The meeting was told that the cases were provided to stop the iPads being damaged, with reference to a couple of incidents which ended up ‘in the press’ a few years ago – although what and which publications were (as normal) not stated.

Cllr Brian Apsley asked if the council paid for the replacement of the damaged items, however was told that the information wasn’t available, with Cllr Atkinson sharply pointing out that members should be ‘big boys and girls about things’ and pay for their own damage if they break the devices.

The meeting was also notable for a tetchy exchange between Cllr Baldwin and Cllr Wright, with the former querying if Cllr Wright had a read the report before the committee after posing a question. Cllr Wright said he had, that prompted an off-mic ‘that makes a change’ comment from Cllr Baldwin.

Cllr Wright invited Cllr Baldwin to ‘say that again’, which then took place on-mic, and resulted in a stern telling off from Cllr Wright and the Cllr King, who requested the meeting be carried on in a ‘civil manner’.

Three recommendations were put forward by Cllr Carrie Harper for the committee to vote on, with the first being that councillors support the continued use of iPads due to the significant savings with printing off the documents.

The second was that members are urged to pay for or lease their own iPads and the third being if members want to pay for their own paperwork printed off, they can, however it is advised where possible that documents are printed at home.

These recommendations were seconded by Cllr Atkinson.

The majority of councillors voted in favour of the recommendation, with Cllr Beverley Parry-Jones and Cllr Dixon voting against.

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