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Councillors iPad Upgrade Plan Proceeds – Some Councillors Use Own Devices Since 2012

NOTE: This content is old - Published: Thursday, Nov 3rd, 2016.

In a good humoured yet thorough meeting of the Democratic Services Committee this afternoon it was decided that plans to upgrade the current stock of Councillor iPads would proceed.

During the meeting several nuggets of information were revealed, at times some coming as a surprise to some of the councillors present including that personal devices will be able to use Council email, and that since 2012 some councillors used their own devices rather than council bought ones.

It was pointed out to the committee that they did not have decision making responsibility but can recommend to the Full Council who will then make the decision next year.

Wrexham Council use an email application called Good, which is an email client from Blackberry and is installed on Councillor iPad devices. The committee were told that new versions of the software will allow folder management, and searches back historically into email archives.

The meeting heard how current iPads could in fact run this software, with new versions being rolled out this side of Christmas – and the email archive search issue possible to be worked around by using a webmail system via the iPad.

The software will also be able to be installed on councillor’s own personal devices, such as mobile phones. It appears such devices would still not be allowed to be used outside of the country (we believe the UK although no one clarified, so it could mean England!) due to UK Government security polices.

A large section of the meeting was spent debating the replacement of Lead Member computers, and their allocation. Some councillors argued that mead members did not require both an iPad and a laptop, with others accepting a higher work load and ease of use of a laptop could be of benefit.

One councillor asked a very specific query regarding lead member device usage, prompting the unintended ICT reply of: “I would not want to say as I don’t understand what Lead Members do on a daily basis” which prompted a panto-esque chorus of ‘Nor do we!’ from some Councillors.

One issue that struck us listening to the debate was the method of report provision with pages, with reference made to 500-600 page reports of information being too much to digest in a sensible manner on tablet devices.

One councillor noted that reports provided as portrait A4 via PDF’s were less useful on landscape mode devices. Cllr Brian Cameron stated he found reading all reports difficult on the device and pointed out others had similar issues.

Cllr Derek Wright, although not fully versed in the technical aspects of mobile data, did query if he had a 4G device personally could he then use his sim card in a new Council provided iPad to get the same effect. He was told a new device to support that would cost an extra £75 one off fee.

At this point it was noted the £15.50 data plan a month, per councillor, fee for 4G enabled iPads was just an example reference figure and not a proposal. Cllr Cameron cited the rubbish 4G signal, or even 3G signal in parts of Wrexham saying the issue was therefore ‘irrelevant’.

The meeting was told by a Council Officer how the desire to a paperless system was underway, however does and will ‘prove difficult at times’ and called the current Council a ‘period of adjustment’ with it being the first session with iPads.

Cllr Bill Baldwin observed the public gallery consisting of ourselves from Wrexham.com and a BBC reporter, saying: “The press are here waiting for a story. Is this the right place to ask if we do not use iPads and do not endorse this, what do we use and what do we do?”

One wag piped up to say ‘do as you do now Bill, nowt!’ which was taken in good humour, with Cllr Baldwin adding: “I feel it is ok, but there has been a lot in the press and on social media over this and some might use it as a political weapon. I seriously want to know, are there alternatives out there?”

Speaking perhaps to our forums and social media comments, he added: “Some of the 100 or so out there who have called us names and don’t know what we do, should we use chalkboards an dusters? Should we use public phone boxes to phone people up?”

Cllr Carole O’Toole echoed his points, adding: “We need the tools to do our job, we need the tools to perform our role and function and these are the totally necessary tool of the trade.”

Cllr Wright put meat on the bones of the figures, saying: “When we took iPads we saved £35,000 a year so you don’t have to be genius to work out which is cheaper for public and people of Wrexham.”

Cllr Bernie McCann was a little more circumspect, saying he had ‘no problem’ with his current device, “Now mine is working ok at the moment, do I need, or will I need one? Do I have the option to say wait until it packs up to get one? I wouldn’t do this with a car.”

The meeting was told that due to the way iPads and computers in general work is the older they are the less likely support and security updates are provided. Further, examples were given that with the older iPads more are being brought to support teams for help, and there is an increase in Officer time spent to fix them.

Cllr Baldwin tried to put forward a proposal to say that ‘Whoever gets in in May should come here in expectation use iPad come hell or high water’ however other members, including Cllr Andrew Bailey said such things could not be dictated to councillors

In a amusingly grim outlook to the elections Councillor Bailey said the debate was ‘rubbing a crystal ball’ as newly elected councillors could be ’52 whizz kids or dunderheads’ with some preferring paper over devices.

The new version of the application is installable on personal devices, with Cllr Cameron enquiring about security implications. The meeting was told the app is run in a ‘secure bubble’ and Wrexham Council themselves could wipe the app remotely if the device was lost or stolen.

Councillor Lloyd Kenyon paid tribute to the ICT services of Wrexham Council giving an example of poor wifi he had experienced at a recent Welsh Government event, contrasting it with the ‘wonderful’ service at Wrexham Council, “I want to congratulate the whole team who are doing an excellent job. I have no issues with the iPad, but with the Good software. I am not sure why it is called Good as never reaches that description.”

The meeting was told of issues with the currently deployed iPads included connecting to wifi and ‘going slow’. This was attributed to them being base models rather than the top specification at the time.

Cllr Baldwin said that the cost is now ‘in the public eye’ and queried ‘if councillors could personally buy their iPad if they wish to, so its up to their own personal preference if council or they want to pay for it’.

Cllr O’Toole noted that not all 52 Councillors had taken up the iPad option in 2012, with four members not having the tablet devices.

This provoked a reaction from several other members, who said they had been told such a move was not possible due to security. Cllr O’Toole was asked if she moved to a Council issued device due to security, she said: “No, not security, that was nothing todo with it”.

Cllr David Griffiths enquired on the new application licence that allows it to run on his own devices: “I might as well do it off my personal one” with other members appearing surprised that they had the option since 2012 to do similar.

For those interested we think three Councillors present today did not use iPads, we think Cllr Griffiths had a laptop tucked away but was using an iPhone, six others were using iPads.

Overall the committee agreed to put forward their approval, all agreeing apart from Councillor Alan Edwards who does not have an iPad, to pursue the new iPad plan where it will go before the Full Council.

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