ALL of St Helens’ 48 councillors have been handed local authority funded Apple iPads and iPhones as part of a move to take the town hall into the “21st century”.
The council believes the equipment will help it move towards a “paperless” working environment.
Various council meeting agendas normally result in huge bundles of papers being printed out, so it is claimed a reduction in this will help cut costs.
It is also seen as a step to help councillors strengthen their ties with constituents through social media, such as Twitter.
However, buying such expensive equipment for elected politicians – who already receive graded allowances dependent on levels of responsibility – may raise eyebrows considering senior Labour councillors are repeatedly condemning cuts in central government funding.
Taxpayer groups said the council must ensure its getting “good value” from the equipment, so that the public do not regard it as money being wasted on the latest gadgets.
And the Department for Communities and Local Government called on St Helens Council to illustrate “if and how this will save money and over what period”.
A St Helens Council spokeswoman explained the move: “Gone are the days when councillors turned up for meetings clutching reams of paper agendas.
“All agendas are now sent to their computers as part of a drive to reduce paper use.
“Councillors give up a huge amount of time dealing with ward issues and it is important to engage with residents as quickly and easily as possible.
“The rapid growth in social media means they can deliver a better service and public engagement more speedily.
“This is all part of the new government agenda rolled out to councils across the country. Councillors across Merseyside and across a large part of the country now have computers to deliver 21st century councils.”
John O’Connell, director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said the council should do all it can to save money: “The council has to ensure it is getting good value from these purchases.
“At a time when necessary savings are being made, residents do not expect their hard-earned cash to be wasted on the latest gadget.
“The council should work hard to make sure they get the most cost-effective device, and that steps are taken to completely cut out needless paperwork."
The Department for Communities and Local Government added: “Councils account for a quarter of all public spending and need to play their part reducing the inherited deficit.
“St Helens must justify its spending to hard working families and should be able to demonstrate if and how this will save money and over what period.
“The public are entitled to know what councils are doing with taxpayers’ money, that is why the Government has required every council to publish all their spending over £500.”