Touchy debate over iPad use

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Limavady councillors were split in opinion this week over a move to give members the latest in technology.

After three attempts, and a substantial debate, which was touchy at times, councillors agreed for one member and a member from the senior management team to trial the use of an iPad.

Some councillors see it as a way to save money, but other councillors are against it and say ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay for it.

Back in August, Sinn Fein councillor Tony McCaul suggested council investigate how much it would cost for members to have iPads. He said they were used in other councils, and had proven to save money.

On Tuesday, when councillors met for their monthly meeting, Chief Executive, Liam Flanigan told members two options had been identified; a Wi-Fi version or a 3G version, with the latter being more expensive. A Wi-Fi version would allow connection to the internet via wi-fi connection and was priced at £270-£300 plus VAT. A 3G version would allow access to the internet anywhere with 3G or mobile phone network coverage and are not tied to a location, members heard, and would cost £365 plus VAT and a monthly charge for unlimited internet /data access at approximately £8 per month.

After outlining the costs, Mr. Flanigan urged members, should they decide to proceed with iPads, that they should be in replacement of existing laptops and that a strict paperless practice for the issue of council committee papers is adopted to demonstrate value for money.

First to air his views was DUP Councillor Alan Robinson said: “Maybe I’m missing something, but buy your own, rather than expecting the ratepayer to pay for it!”

Colr. Robinson said an iPad in the chamber was useless without Wi-Fi.

SDLP Colr. Michael Coyle said he wouldn’t be in favour of a Wi-Fi version, as “it’s the same as a laptop. You can’t use it in here.”

Colr. Coyle said the 3G version would be the only one of use. He said he would use an iPad as, at some meetings he attends, he is restricted for space. He agreed the cost to ratepayers would have to be taken into account, but believed it would save money rather than sending papers out to members. He said he would happily be a volunteer user.

Sinn Fein Colr. Brenda Chivers said she had bought her own iPad and it was a great tool. She said it would only work if all councillors used it, and felt it wasn’t fair to ask the ratepayers to foot the bill.

Colr. McCaul said the 3G version would be the best. He said it’s been proven to save ratepayers money elsewhere and added some members may be scared about using an iPad, but suggested training could be provided.

SDLP Gerry Mullan said he would certainly welcome an iPad.

TUV Colr. Boyd Douglas said it was okay for those members who wanted one, but it would still be the ratepayer paying for them.

He said it was quite clear the council wasn’t in a position to go paperless, “so why go down this road? Why even consider it? Buy your own if you’re that keen,” he said. “I’m opposed to this and spending ratepayers’ money.”

Colr. Alan Robinson spoke again to stress his view that those who wish to have an iPad should buy one themselves.

“We can’t expect ratepayers to pay. What’s next? A sofa, a television?” he added.

DUP Colr. James McCorkell asked how long the trial would be as he had serious concerns.

Colr. Alan Robinson’s proposal that those who wanted an iPad should buy one themselves failed.

Colr. Coyle’s proposal that Council should buy them also failed.

A second proposal from Colr Coyle that council should have a trial for one councillor and one member of the senior management team for three months was carried.

Colr. Coyle was proposed as the volunteer councillor by Sinn Fein’s Tony McCaul.