Scarborough Council Ipad’s – The £53k Question

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Scarborough Council Ipad’s – The £53k Question

Article By Tim Thorne

Dr Strangefacts or how I learned to stop worrying and love spending the entire IT budget.

On Friday Feb 24th 2012 Councillors at Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) voted themselves some new shiny iPads, but new facts have come to light that will cast doubt upon the information given to them.

Originally it was thought that ceasing printing Council agendas and posting out to Cllrs. would save in the region of £10k per annum. At the meeting on Friday Feb 24th the Council Leader Cllr. Tom Fox told a full Council meeting that the original figure was wrong and it would actually save £53k per annum if the members voted to buy seventy iPads. That’s fifty for the Cllrs. and twenty for Senior Council Staff.

Most Cllrs. had never heard the £53k figure mentioned before the Council Meeting and the only substantiation that there was a £53k saving to be made was orally from Tom Fox. They had no time to look objectively at the figures quoted, no time to read more material on the matter, no time to ask questions of the Borough’s Council Officers and make an informed decision. Of the fifty Cllrs. elected by the people in the Borough of Scarborough only eight didn’t vote for Tom Fox’s proposal. It seems a good many Cllrs. may fall for the charm of Mr Adeboju who desperately needs a UK bank account to move monies from his small African country.

A breakdown of the supposed £53k saving is as follows:

£3,000 Materials

£5,000 Postage Savings

£5,000 Printing Costs

£10,000 Equipment

£30,000 Merging Print Plus & Admin inc Staff Restructure

£53,000 Total Savings Per Annum

The first two lines seem self-explanatory and the costs seem about right. Would it not be easier to pop the agendas into the Cllr. pigeonholes so they can save on postage costs? This should have been on the agenda as soon as the Cllrs. were issued with laptops for communicating with their ward constituents. I believe the ‘Printing Costs’ relate to the Watermarking of Council Documents. All documents that are passed to Cllrs. at Scarborough Borough Council are individually watermarked. If the documents are leaked to the press or a third party and Council Officers get their hands on the offending document they can tell which Cllr. leaked them and take appropriate action. Incidentally, SBC have software for the iPads that will track every move the Cllrs. make. They’ll have the ability to monitor which documents are opened and for how long, and even if those documents have been copied to an external device such as a USB memory stick. For those interested the £10k equipment cost is for a Fast Mono Printer. SBC have two of these printers and they will be retaining one for internal use. The £30k saving looks as if will come from some poor soul losing their job and the reshuffling of other staff.

What stands out from the costs? Well, there is not a single mention of iPads. No mention of their purchase costs, no mention of software costs, no mention of their ongoing support costs, no mention of training costs and no mention of other costs associated with the use of an iPad. The £53k saving is solely as a result of stopping printing and posting material out to Cllrs.

So what are the iPads costs? The Council are keeping that information very close to their chest. There are a few FOI requests in to try and prise that information out of them, but they are noted for their eel-like qualities and I have every expectation that will not be disclosed due to containing ‘financially sensitive material’. In lieu of other information I would estimate the cost of the iPads to be somewhere between £12-18k per year if you spread the cost over five years. If you add in the iPad costs it wouldn’t be a £53k saving, more like £35-41k saving.

Tom Fox has given a few interviews to the press about his justification of the iPad purchase.

“This isn’t about a cost rise, this is about a cost saving.”

“Out of £2.2 million pounds in savings in the budget, £53,000 is savings related to having iPads.”

“What I cannot understand it why people cannot evaluate between the saving made and if it is an expense. I’m finding it very hard to get my head around.”

At the very worst Tom Fox has lied to his fellow Cllrs. At the very best he has unwittingly passed along misinformation from uninformed Council Officers and made himself look a complete fool.

There is one option that doesn’t seem to have been considered. If they are looking for savings then using the existing laptops and stopping printing represents the best possible saving for the Council. They realise almost the full £53k saving with only the current support costs for the laptops debiting from that figure. I’ve heard a few moans about how slow the laptops are. My work laptop is about the same age and does the business. Maybe the Council IT staff need to improve their act and clean up the laptops with a desktop refresh? It didn’t go unnoticed by me that some Cllrs. complain it takes ages to download stuff from Council networks and I will go into those further down.

So is it all about the paperless office? No. If they were indeed looking for savings then the time to try and implement a paperless office was a year after the laptops were issued and the Councillors had gotten the knack of using them. Councillors were claiming for ‘Internet Allowance’ since 2003/4. At the end of this month they will have been claiming for nine years. If they’d implemented a paperless office in 2004/5 the savings to the tax payer would have been around £400k to date. Is it about improving the productivity of Councillors? Since most Councillors use the laptop to respond to email and read a few documents I can’t imagine the iPads making much difference to their productivity. It will take much longer to respond to emails or write documents, but on the plus side they can sit on the sofa or do a spot of late night reading in bed.

There could be a little more than meets the eye to the speed issues the Cllrs are encountering. Most organisations use software to give secure remote access to their networks. VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) provide a securely encrypted tunnel between two points on the Internet. Use of VPNs is vital for business class Internet access services. There have been major changes in the way Internet connections have been managed over the past few years. The growth in the use of Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Networks has gobbled up lots of bandwidth at ISPs. ISPs found it increasingly expensive to keep up with the usage and implemented systems to keep the majority of customer’s connections working well while clamping down on users that use lots of bandwidth. The systems are called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) which are used to identify the different types of traffic coming from the customer and Quality of Service (QoS) to give a class of service to different types of traffic. This ensures that lowly prioritised traffic (P2P) doesn’t gobble up all the bandwidth.

It is my contention that the speed issues are not down to the age of the laptops, but down to the speed of the Cllrs. broadband connection. If you buy one of the cheapest possible home user Internet connections on the market at around £9.99-14.99 a month then the ISP might not prioritise that VPN traffic flowing across your connection which in turn leads to very slow speeds for VPNs. If Cllrs are not spending their entire Internet Allowance on a broadband connection which supports VPNs then this will very likely be the cause of the speed issues and the not the laptops themselves. These speed issues are quite important as Cllr. Fox has quoted this reason as one main drivers for the purchase of the iPads.

There is a chain of events which leads to the poor decision to buy the iPads and waste upwards of £40k of tax payer’s money here. The Cllrs. didn’t spend their full allowance on a business class broadband service which would support a VPN connection and instead opted for a cheap as chips home user service which caused speed problems and productivity issues. The Council IT staff incorrectly diagnosed the speed problems as being caused by the laptops which led to the decision to look around for a new solution. Any £500 a day IT Consultant would probably have picked this out quite quickly.

Given all of the above I think it is safe to say the purchase of the iPads was never about saving tax payer’s money. The decision magnified poor IT practices which culminated in a very poor decision by Scarborough Borough Council and will ultimately end up wasting a lot of money if carried through. Overall it is a very poor attempt at justifying the spending of tax payer’s money on a piece of equipment particularly when you take into account that it will not benefit the majority of users. It seems obvious to me that the Council are going to fully spend their IT budget so they can continue to justifty their jobs, especially in these times of austerity. Has anyone ever heard of a case where a government organisation handed back money to Central Government saying they didn’t need it this year?

By |2012-03-14T21:58:50+00:00March 13th, 2012|Categories: Featured, News|Tags: |28 Comments

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28 Comments

  1. Nigel Ward March 13, 2012 at 8:53 pm - Reply

    . . . just a Dedicated Follower of Fashion?

    http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2012/03/corporate_ipad/

  2. J.G.Harston March 13, 2012 at 10:41 pm - Reply

    Why does the details of staff equipment have to go to a Full Council vote? Next month’s vote: what colour gloves to issue to binmen.

  3. Carmen A Sturdy March 14, 2012 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    It seems from the comments on this site that every decision, no matter how small should be examined not only by full council but by the entire population as well.

    Everything is challenged and questioned. All this at great cost to us, the Council Tax and income tax payers. Can you imagine what its like working in such an environment.

    It seems, according to many individuals who comment regularly, that anyone who is either elected to or works for the council is by definition incompetent and/or corrupt.

    The constant sniping at what is, in fact, democracy at work surely acts as a power to constrain and limit effective decision making and management.

    Take the issue of the i pads. Does anybody actually believe that Tom Fox backed the move because he thought it would be less efficient? What do people think the Council’s motives were if not to improve efficiency?

    Is anyone asking whether the Council should run Ford or Vauxhall vans or whether the toilet paper should be Andrex or Isal? If not don’t you think they should be?

    • admin March 14, 2012 at 5:17 pm - Reply

      On a personal level I would disagree with some (Not all) of your observations. I personally have several friends who are employed by SBC. All are good people, work hard for their employers and do a top job around the town. A few who spring to mind : Keith Gilpin, Keith Wright, Mark Winspear, Sean Buck, Karl Homer, Ian Ballard to name but a few. I understand that peoples perception of the site is that we are 100% against SBC including staff, but that is not true. I would love to receive some stories about these people and the jobs they do but nothing ever arrives in my in tray other than the standard sbc press releases. Conversley I would agree that it is not good practice for every single decision of sbc should go to full council or even public vote. There simply isnt enough time or resources to allow for this. However the public must also have a right to discuss policy and question some of the more expensive decisions such as buying IPADS for councilors. Just my opinion, by the way.

  4. Tim Thorne March 14, 2012 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    “What do people think the Council’s motives were if not to improve efficiency?” You’ve already said it, incompetence. That’s the cause of this decision. It will in no way save money. It *may* improve efficiency for some Council Officers and possibly a few Councillors, but for the vast majority of the Councillors it will not improve efficiency at all. Overall it will not improve efficiency. All the quoted reasons for buying them are null and void. But they’ll buy them anyway because they’re morally bankrupt and have no qualms wasting tax payer’s money on these toys.

  5. Carmen A Sturdy March 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    In your view!

  6. Tim Thorne March 14, 2012 at 4:10 pm - Reply

    They have all the equipment available to run a paperless office now without buying the iPads. They can save £53k a year on printing costs without buying the iPads. If SBC learnt how to manage their current IT infrastructure there wouldn’t be an issue. SBC are trying their hand at running online petitions now and they can’t get them to work. This is not my opinion, this is fact.

  7. admin March 14, 2012 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    Hi Tim, Am I right in assuming that all current councilors have laptops and if so do you know what spec they are and what operating system they run etc.

  8. Tim Thorne March 14, 2012 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    Most use their laptops, some use their own PCs and use the SBC webmail server. The spec and OS (Was XP) of the laptops doesn’t matter as the usage of them has never changed. They are using them as they have always done. If they were good 5 years ago they are good today.

    • admin March 14, 2012 at 9:52 pm - Reply

      Various service pack and security updates in XP have greatly slowed such systems and also on some machines resulted in hardware incompatibility issues often meaning disk drives, modems and routers just dont work any more, plus the contracts that some authorites have with microsoft, and also their own in house security software often means that web browsers such as internet explorer can not use the most up to date versions meaning that many websites are now very slow to load on such systems and some sites can even freeze pc’s running old versions of ie. I would argue that five year old laptops are not fit for purpose today. The debate for me is new laptops or ipads as I believe one or the other is much needed. Perhaps the savings may not be as great as set out by Mr Fox but I do firmly believe that savings will be made through use of IT.

      • Tim Thorne March 14, 2012 at 10:22 pm - Reply

        “I would argue that five year old laptops are not fit for purpose today.” My business laptop is older and likely has very similar usage. It is good for a few years yet. XP is supported until April 2014 and I would imagine that a lot of companies will be looking for replacement hardware around that time. That should be the driver for SBC to change the hardware. By all means replace them with iPads at that time if there is a good case, but from what has been said about them I’ve yet to see a good case. The laptops will do until April 2014.

        BTW, there are newer images of XP that include the new service packs, these work much, much faster than the original image then patching it with the major service packs. You talk about security and IE in the same breath! Most security concious companies ditch IE in favour of something a little more secure.

  9. Harold Locker March 14, 2012 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    “What stands out from the costs? Well, there is not a single mention of iPads.” – Of course the purchase cost of the iPads would not be shown in the SAVINGS *AFTER* PURCHASE.

    ” It will take much longer to respond to emails or write documents,” – In YOUR view. Unless you have quantifiable evidence for this statement?

  10. Tim Thorne March 14, 2012 at 9:30 pm - Reply

    “In YOUR view.” Have you ever used an Ipad to type a lengthy email? I have, and I prefer my keyboard as it is much, much faster. Do you have any quantifiable evidence to show that iPads are quicker to use that a standard keyboard?

  11. Harold Locker March 14, 2012 at 9:41 pm - Reply

    My apologies, Tim, there was meant to be another paragraph in my previous post along the lines of mixing “views” with “facts” in articles of such importance. There was no intention of really making an ‘issue’ out of it, more a gentle editorial comment, and I’m sorry I neglected to post that paragraph.

    I think we can agree, though, that typing speed on anything really depends on the person in question – My Sister, for instance, will always be a “hunt and peck” no matter what the keyboard.

  12. Tim Thorne March 14, 2012 at 9:55 pm - Reply

    “I think we can agree, though, that typing speed on anything really depends on the person in question” The people in question are Councillors and Officers at SBC who’ve been using e-mail for quite sometime. You may find the odd one fingered typist who can use both platforms at the same speed, but the majority will find using a keyboard much, much faster. It is like comparing a motorbike and a pushbike, one is built for speed, one is built for pedalling. That said, the iPads do have an external keyboard which would negate this, but if you rolling the keyboard out you may as well be at a desk.

  13. admin March 14, 2012 at 10:00 pm - Reply

    Hey Tim, thanks for coming on and answering questions and debating your article with people who read the site, its good to see.

  14. Nick March 14, 2012 at 10:36 pm - Reply

    Here’s a thought.
    The Council boasted at the time of the Icelandic bank collapses that their “investments” were all “safe and sound”.
    They also boasted that their increases in Council Tax were “justified”.
    There was another claim that their need for “cuts” were also “justified”.

    So, we have a PUBLIC BODY with money invested in stocks/shares/bonds…. are they making money out of that? What interest payments are being received by the Council? How frequently are they received? Who operates these schems? How many staff are employed to “invest”?

    We have a PUBLIC BODY taking greater sums in Council Tax. Where are their figures showing the total collected in Council Tax in any given year? Where can we see the “costs” incurred in running the council and it’s associated services set against that income? What other streams of income are shown or included in the “published figures”??? How many streams of income are ‘hidden’ from public viewing? (and before you suggest there aren’t any ‘hidden figures’ think again…)

    A PUBLIC BODY making cuts!?! Aren’t they taking in greater sums of money with all the ‘privatisation’ going on around us? Didn’t the OAT in Scarborough rake in a ton of money for the Coucil? What happened at Sands? Wasn’t that supposed to ‘make money’? All these projects and lots and lots of wasted money…. where are the projects that DO make money? There don’t seem to be many…. who’s behind it all? Do the elected Councillors have any real idea about what’s going on, or are they kept in the dark about the ‘little details’?

    Just a few questions for you, dear reader, to ponder.

    • Nick March 14, 2012 at 10:40 pm - Reply

      Whilst it could be said that my post above was off topic, I’d suggest otherwise, because the iPad issue is the tip of a very big iceberg of money.
      Money that we are asked not to look at too closely, and it’s way past time that we took a huge magnifying glass and looked VERY closely.
      There are lots of financial ‘schemes’ going on at SBC and lots of them seem to be disconnected, and I feel that it’s with good reason they are disconnected…. we tend not to look too hard to connect dots then.

  15. Harold Locker March 14, 2012 at 10:37 pm - Reply

    Ok, Tim, I think we could debate in circles for hours about expected typing speeds on differing equipment as I know people of similar levels as Councillors and Senior Managers in reasonably large organisations who despite using IT for nearly two decades cannot type for toffee.

    Will the Councillors be receiving training on use the iPads effectively?

    • Tim Thorne March 14, 2012 at 11:00 pm - Reply

      “Will the Councillors be receiving training on use the iPads effectively?” I canvassed all existing Councillors on a couple of issues in the Borough over two weeks ago. Out of 49 I am still awaiting replies from 22 despite sending another email asking them politely for their views. If they can’t use the existing system which is more productive after 5 years what hopes is there of them using the iPads effectively? Councillors use the laptops for email, browsing intranet documents and writing some documents of their own. The iPads are a less productive solution for two out of the three tasks. They will be able to do a spot of late night reading in bed with the iPads, but is it worth spending upwards of £40k over 5 years to enable them to do that? I don’t believe that any amount of training will help here.

  16. Harold Locker March 14, 2012 at 10:40 pm - Reply

    Nick – can I take it from context that ‘OAT’ is the Open Air Theatre?

  17. Nick March 14, 2012 at 10:47 pm - Reply

    @Harold – Yes, the OAT is the Open Air Theatre.

  18. Harold Locker March 14, 2012 at 10:50 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Nick.

  19. harold Locker March 14, 2012 at 11:20 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Tim. I would hope they’ll at least get a decent introduction to them and how they differ in working from the laptops and XP they’re used to.

  20. Ian Victa March 15, 2012 at 9:22 am - Reply

    Good article. I should like to add a couple of points:

    and even if those documents have been copied to an external device such as a USB memory stick.

    You’ll be lucky, there’s no USB port on an iPad.
    Secondly, no-one has addressed the question as to how our councillors will write letters (on paper) to constituents. Or will we end up having to buy them all a wireless printer? And how does that sit with the £53k saving?

    • Tim Thorne March 15, 2012 at 12:31 pm - Reply

      “You’ll be lucky, there’s no USB port on an iPad.” The USB port is on the iPad dock, not the device itself.

  21. […] covered the decision to buy the iPads for SBC Councillors and Officers in a Real Whitby article a while ago and went into some depth why the decision was flawed and why they are a poor […]

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