Posted: Thu 15th Oct 2020

Flintshire councillors defend plans to buy laptops for politicians who need extra screen to follow virtual meetings

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

Flintshire councillors have defended plans to buy laptops for politicians who need an extra screen to follow virtual meetings.

Members of Flintshire Council are already provided with taxpayer-funded iPads to carry out their roles.

However, some elected representatives have reported issues trying to follow large agendas on their Apple devices whilst talking to their colleagues via video conference.

It comes after committees were forced to stop holding physical meetings in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.


As a solution, the local authority is proposing to spend up to £27,000 to buy laptops for councillors to use alongside their iPads for meetings.

Officers said the cost would be offset by a reduction in printing fees and the computers would only be given to those who request them due to not having their own.

The move was approved by most members of the council’s constitution and democratic services committee yesterday (Wednesday 14 October), despite attracting criticism from members of the public on social media.

Caergwrle councillor David Healey said: “I don’t think the public quite know the size of our agendas and the amount of paperwork that actually goes out to councillors prior to these meetings.

“This one at 116 pages is really quite light by comparison with planning agendas and cabinet agendas which can be over 500 pages.

“I can see how the sum of £60,000 for actually doing this (printing) is unsustainable in this day and age.

“One way or another, we do need to move to a set up where we can look at two screens at one time.”

He added: “I’m glad that we’re using a flexible method where if we’ve got PC equipment at home then we can use that.

“These laptops are not being dished out willy nilly by the council to every councillor.”

During August, the council carried out a review of what IT equipment councillors currently have available to them.

Only 25 of the 70 members on the authority said they already had another device to read agendas on.

It means up to 45 laptops may need to be purchased at a cost of up to £600 each.

One committee member said that having two devices was not necessary, arguing that the proposals would be too costly.

Cllr David Williams, who represents Penyffordd, said: “I feel like I’m on my own here, but I think giving people a laptop is an expensive luxury to have two machines side by side looking at each other.

“I’m sat here with my feet up and my iPad. All I do is when we get the agenda, copy an item off the agenda into my notes.

“I read it, edit it, play with it and just press two buttons right through the meetings.

“I’m no technical whizz kid but I really do think it’s an expensive luxury to have two machines on the go.”

However, Cllr Williams was outnumbered by the rest of the committee who voted in favour.

Cllr Ted Palmer said: “It’s very confusing when you’re doing a meeting on your iPad and flicking from screen to screen when people are talking and trying to gauge response.

“It’s also very difficult to chair a meeting with the iPad. You can’t see everybody’s face and you can’t see who’s indicated so I do think this is a wise move.”

The committee also supported a recommendation to give a broadband allowance of £30 per month to councillors with connection issues – an offer which could cost more than £25,000 per year if every member takes it up.

 

Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).



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