New Toys for Peterborough Councillors

08:07 Monday 15th August 2011
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY GALL: First it was free iPads. Now Cabinet Members at Peterborough City Council are being offered free iPhones. The Peterborough Liberal Democrat councillors have criticised the idea, saying it’s not appropriate in the current climate. It’s thought that the handsets cost around £500. Earlier we spoke to Cllr Darren Fower, and he said that the Cabinet Members should be leading by example. (TAPE)
DARREN FOWER: Cost is a major factor in today’s world. We’ve also got this situation where up until recently in the last couple of years Cabinet Members have benefited from free Blackberries. And if you look at some of these individuals, they’re not poor. They have got a lot of money about themselves anyway, and I think really as senior members of the Council they need to be looking to lead by example. And like you say, securing these items that are about £500 a pop, times that by the number of councillors, that’s a lot of money being spent. (LIVE)
ANDY GALL: Now we were hoping to speak to Cllr David Seaton, the man in charge of this area, but he’s unavailable, but we’ve been sent a more than capable replacement, Cllr Matthew Dalton, Cabinet Member for Communications at Peterborough City Council. He joins us now. Good morning Matthew.
MATTHEW DALTON: Good morning Andy.
ANDY GALL: So thank you for coming in. Now could these iPhones make you a saving then?
MATTHEW DALTON: Well the first thing to do is to slay a few dragons by Cllr Fower. The cost of the iPhones is in the region of £160 per handset. The new contract that we’ve negotiated basically means that for every iPhone we take on, we actually get a saving on the line rental contract of about £240. So ..
ANDY GALL: But where are you at the moment? Because people would say OK, what’s the current situation, and how will that change? Because we’ve heard that many councillors have got Blackberries at the moment anyway.
MATTHEW DALTON: Well let me just talk about the current contract, and then I’ll come onto talk about the councillors. We’ve just come to the end of a 3 year contract with a telecommunications provider, and we’ve gone out to tender on a new contract. And the tendering process has basically ensured that we’ve saved £50,000. And that includes the cost of the new smartphones. Obviously we’ll be acquiring smartphones and basic handsets for more than just councillors. There are a lot of people across the authority, senior officers, who have smartphones. And councillors will, as you’ve heard, be offered them in the same process.
ANDY GALL: Can I jump in? Because I’ve got ..
MATTHEW DALTON: Sure. Of course.
ANDY GALL: I’m itching for a question here.
MATTHEW DALTON: Yeah, yeah.
ANDY GALL: I would have thought that there is an opportunity here, isn’t there, for councillors to say, look, because everybody’s having a difficult time of it, we’ll, from our own money, from our own salary, we’ll pay for our communication facilities. We’ll pay for our own phones. We’ll pay for our own laptops. Because that’s what happens in many other organisations.
MATTHEW DALTON: Absolutely. And councillors have, for example, dipped into their own pockets recently with regards car parking. I was one of those.
ANDY GALL: But car parking, in all fairness, is small fry compared to your white-hot technology.
MATTHEW DALTON: Well I don’t know if I’d say that to people who pay hundreds of pounds a year for car parking in the city centre. In fact i think you’d be surprised at how much councillors are paying for their car parking permits, quite rightly in my opinion. I think in today’s climate where national government, national politicians are making cutbacks, local politicians need to make the same. But ..
ANDY GALL: But what I mean Matthew is that I accept that you’re paying for your own parking, but then other people again listening will probably just retort to the radio, well so what? I’ve been paying my parking all the time.
MATTHEW DALTON: I accept that completely. But you have to understand that the role of an elected politician who’s at the Town Hall in the evenings, who’s at the Town Hall for a few minutes during the day to deal with Council business, is not the same as an employee working nine to five in an office in the city centre. And I’m one absolutely for making sure we are custodians of the public money, we don’t spend any more than necessary on services and on councillors’ allowances, but you have to accept that the role of an elected councillor is not the same as the role of a member of staff, and it’s certainly not the same as the role of a worker in a local shop.
ANDY GALL: OK. Can I then .. if I understand this right .. are you arguing that the rolling out of iPhones and iPads could in effect make you a saving in the long term?
MATTHEW DALTON: Well, the whole contract, the purchase of the smartphones, and the contract for the line rental with the new provider, is saving us £50,000 on the current contract.
ANDY GALL: Over what period of time?
MATTHEW DALTON: Over three years.
ANDY GALL: OK.
MATTHEW DALTON: So in very basic terms, I’m not trying to hide anything, we are saving money in the new contract, in cash terms, not in real terms, inflated terms, in cash terms, we’re saving money. I completely accept that there’s an argument around whether councillors should have iPhones. But I’d just like to come to the point that Cllr Fower made. And I think it’s relevant to talk about Cllr Sandford’s position on this, the Leader of his group. Because Cllr Sandford in his response to whether he wanted an iPhone, said, well I’m not sure whether I want an iPhone. But I think the new system you’ve got is fairer than the old. Because there are a lot of people, quite understandably, who said, I as a Cabinet Member have been given a Blackberry. And yet a back bench councillor hasn’t been given a Blackberry. That’s unfair. It’s a two-tier system. And I understand that was a comment. We’re now going to a one-tier system where everybody is being offered the same device. And so Cllr Sandford for what it’s worth, Cllr Fower’s leader, said that’s a fairer system. So there’s always going to be arguments on both sides of this.
ANDY GALL: It just sounded a little bit like the pigs in the farmhouse – bickering over the finest wine they’re going to drink, when there’s people out in the fields – the Animal Farm analogy – struggling with paying just basic bills, domestic, bills, struggling with their jobs, worrying about job security. And they hear you guys bickering over whether or not you want a shiny new iPad or not.
MATTHEW DALTON: Andy, this was always going to be what would be called an easy hit for the Liberal Democrats in the morning. They think, oh, we’ve heard that councillors are being offered iPhones. Let’s go on and hit the administration. It’s very easy to do that. It’s much more difficult to go through a sophisticated exercise looking at the figures, and looking at the budget. And I am very very conscious that we need to save people’s money. I’ve talked about the car parking. Councillors’ salaries haven’t increased at all in two years time, in two years. Quite rightly. In fact I was arguing two years ago that we ought to perhaps look at a 5% cut. There hasn’t been an increase for two years.
ANDY GALL: Will you be promoting the idea of everybody having an iPhone and iPads?
MATTHEW DALTON: It’s not my job to promote it. I’m not the Cabinet Member responsible.
ANDY GALL: Will you be accepting one?
MATTHEW DALTON: I don’t know.
ANDY GALL: Why not? Why don’t you know? What’s your issue?
MATTHEW DALTON: because I haven’t thought about it. It’s only been in the last few days that we’ve been offered them. And the difficulty we have of course is that the Blackberry contract is coming to an end, and I have a Council Blackberry at the moment. And perhaps, if I’m allowed, I’ll say well actually I’ll keep my Blackberry, because there’s nothing wrong with it. The difficulty is, you understand from a telecommunications perspective, that you’re then running two separate devices. And it’s much more difficult to run that across an authority. So if I’m allowed to keep my Blackberry, I may well do that. But I suspect I may not be able to.
ANDY GALL: But you understand as well that the language in this current climate, it sounds a bit clunky, it sounds a bit awkward, doesn’t it, to be talking about iPads iPhones, and everyone else is thinking, look, we’ve got to pin things down. We can’t afford luxuries at the moment. It does seem a little bit ..
MATTHEW DALTON: I agree, and I don’t have an iPad. My opinion is I don’t think we need to roll out iPads across the authority. There are a couple of councillors trialling them at the moment. I don’t see any reason why we need iPads. Most councillors have laptops, and I think if you’ve got an iPhone and a laptop, then you’ve got plenty of technology to make sure you’re in touch with what’s going on in the authority. But as I say, that’s for other Cabinet Members to make the decision rather than me. But I want people listening to this programme to realise that the Cabinet in the City Council and thw administration is very conscious of being the custodians of public money. And I very much hope that the Council tax increase this coming year will be as low as the last for example.
ANDY GALL: When’s the decision going to be made on your new equipment so to speak?
MATTHEW DALTON: My personal decision, or the general decision?
ANDY GALL: General decision.
MATTHEW DALTON: By about a month’s time, in September, as far as I understand.
ANDY GALL: OK. Thank you very much for talking to us. That’s Matthew Dalton, Cabinet Member for Communications at Peterborough City Council.

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1 thought on “New Toys for Peterborough Councillors”

  1. There is something fundamentally wrong with the system when the council announces that it’s transparent and will communicate fully with the electorate about finances but when someone looks into it we are told that the council can not afford to communicate with those who pay; but now find that they can afford a premium product when it comes to communicating with each other and officers. Most of my contact with councillors and officers indicates that they are incapable of using any technology since emails and phone messages go unanswered so why even provide a basic phone or laptop?

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