Authority defends high-tech spending

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WIGAN Council has spent more than £210,000 on electrical gadgets for employees and service users over the last three years.

Information released under Freedom of Information rules shows that between 2010 and 2012, the authority has purchased £210,625 worth of BlackBerry smartphones, iPads, iPhones and laptops.

Laptops made up the bulk of the bill, with 316 purchases in the three-year period, totalling £182,423.

These were given to the council’s social services department; the Disability Resource Centre in Wigan; Sunshine House, Scholes; the Children and Young People’s Services; Westleigh Children’s Centre; the chief executive’s members room; Landgate House; and Stonehouse family centre in Leigh. Council chiefs also bought 91 BlackBerry phones, worth between £120 and £235, totalling £11,560 and 35 iPads amounting to £14,945. These were used by Orrell Holgate Primary School; Hindley Surestart Centre; Leigh Central Primary School; CYPS; the chief executive’s members room, IT department and revenue and benefits. And four iPhones totalling £1,696 - were bought for service users as part of a pilot for access to council benefit systems.

Alison Hughes, the Council’s head of strategic ICT partnership, said: “Like most businesses, Wigan Council needs to use modern IT tools to enable us to deliver services for our customers and do business with them. “Increasingly, council officers need to be able to respond promptly to queries from customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Many of these inquiries are received via email and web forms, as well as by telephone and face-to-face.

“The allocation of BlackBerry devices, laptops and iPads is on a business case basis. These enable officers to respond promptly from various locations, often cutting travel costs and time by reducing the requirement to return to base to do business. Use of a BlackBerry enables officers to make calls and resolve queries on site, as well as responding to emails and taking photographs associated with issues or problems reported by residents. The Council has purchased a small number of iPads for use by Cabinet members and senior officers, which has generated a saving, through a reduction in print costs for meeting papers. Effective use of IT enables us to reduce the cost of delivering services, focusing our resources on front line service delivery rather than back office functions.”

But Robert Oxley from pressure group the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Councils have to ensure that they deliver value for money out of IT purchases.

“Buying tablets has to be justified and cannot simply be about getting the latest gadget at the expense of taxpayers. Why technology is being purchased for customers also raises questions.”