The national media has reported that Leicester City Council could be on the verge of spending £40,000 on iPads for its councillors, despite plans to cut 1,000 staff.
However, in response to criticism that it should not be spending money while cutting staff, Ross Grant, leader of the Conservative opposition for Leicester City Council, explained that the iPads could actually save the council jobs and money.
"We are in the process of replacing our main buildings containing 1,400 staff. There is a £60m budget for this. If we could shift 300 to 400 staff to work from home using [mobile solutions such as the iPad and] cloud computing, there could potentially be tens of millions of pounds of savings. That could save jobs down the line."
Grant explained that it currently costs £6m a year to run the council's two central buildings. "If we shift staff to the cloud, and just provide meeting facilities and hotdesks, we could reduce our need to one building." This could potentially lead to a saving of £3m per year.
He also argues that the likely cost of a rollout cited in reports is wrong. If roughly half the councillors want to use the iPad, the resulting cost will be about £15,000, less than half the figure reported elsewhere.
In addition to this, the money used to buy the technology has already been set aside: "We have individual budgets for each councillor to buy tools to help them do their jobs," said Grant. He goes on to explain that this money amounts to about £800 per councillor per year.
"I bought my iPad from this budget, so it's not new money. Most councillors' laptops and IT equipment are up for renewal next year, so it could actually be cost neutral in this respect too [given that new IT purchasing would be required anyway]."
Grant gave other reasons why the iPad is useful in a working environment. "I didn't get full use of my laptop, which I've returned. If you meet a colleague in the street [and need to record something they say], you can't wait for a laptop to boot. In meetings a laptop screen can be a barrier. A tablet device is just like having paper documents in front of you."
He also said that printing and paper costs would be reduced with the iPad. " I used to print out 140-page documents in meetings. Now I just open them in iBooks. Also, I used to get a courier delivering paperwork to me twice per week. Now I'm trying to get access to Dropbox, MobileMe and Google Docs."