Brighton and Hove council asks staff to hand back their Blackberries

Posted On 24 Jan 2011 at 5:11 am

Council staff are being asked to give back their Blackberries to save money.

Dozens of senior staff as well as most of the 54 councillors have been issued with the mobile phone and internet devices.

They come on a two-year contract which costs almost £1,000 before a single phone call is made, text sent or internet page viewed.

The Green Party finance spokesman, Councillor Jason Kitcat, wrote on his blog: “Belts are tightening as we get ever closer to the date when the 2011-12 budget has to be set for Brighton and Hove City Council.

“With £30 million of front-loaded coalition government cuts to find, council officers are quite reasonably reviewing and challenging every expenditure.

“A recent email sent around by the council’s IT department asks staff to consider whether they really, really need their Blackberry.

“If not, could they give it up and perhaps live without a mobile phone at all?

“Perfectly sensible, there may be people who don’t really need their Blackberries but still have one in a drawer somewhere.

“What’s interesting are the costs the council apparently incurs per Blackberry.

“A device on a two-year contract costs £432 a year before call charges plus £105 in set-up and licence charges.

“The monthly breakdown is £19 for Vodafone tariff and £17 for Blackberry and ICT support charges.

Galling

“So before a single call is made or text is sent, a Blackberry will cost taxpayers £969 over its two-year contract period.

“That much of this goes to Vodafone is particularly galling given their tax avoider status.

“This is another symptom of the council’s gold-plated approach to ICT.

“No criticism of the current head of ICT, this predates him by some time.

“The Blackberries came in under the Labour administration and carried on under the Tories – as did the huge all-encompassing Microsoft licensing deal.

“Rather than find good-enough solutions, the approach has been to dive for the big name brands as soon as they offer a hint of a discount from their pre-inflated prices.

“Then we’re locked in.

“A small number of decent Linux servers and any smartphone would meet the messaging needs of the council perfectly adequately at a fraction of the cost.

“Why are we paying licence fees for Exchange servers and Blackberry servers?

“Yes, let’s cut down on the unnecessary issuing of mobile devices and excessive use of costly services (they’re also cracking down on football scores and directory enquiries via mobiles).

“But let’s reconsider whether the whole architecture makes financial sense too.

“Almost a grand for mobile access to email just doesn’t seem reasonable to me.”

Councillor Kitcat said that he did not have a council Blackberry because he preferred his own iPhone.

He said that he was not criticising any councillor for having a Blackberry as they were a lifeline to keeping on top of council work while juggling their other responsibilities.

But he added: “As far as I’m aware this is the first time we’ve been made aware of the cost they incur.”

  1. Valerie Paynter, saveHOVE Reply

    It is worth remembering that 24/7 mobile phone access means 24/7 of being “on duty”. I expect this of the CEO and other officers on £100,000 plus salaries. Councillors do not need these expensive toys and status symbols.

    I’d love a crackberry myself, for internet access. Instead I have a 99p (true!)Alcatel mobile phone purchased with a £10 pay-as-you-go topup and after 2 months still have £3 on it. Emergency use only and for calling taxis.

    Did the council buy the blackberries or did they come with the contract?

  2. A Thorpe Reply

    I agree with Valerie. I wonder why the councillors need email – it certainly isn’t for the benefit of the residents. As an example I recently contacted the council directly on an issue I have asked about before and because I did not expect a sensible response I also sent a copy of the email to one of my councillors asking him to look into it. He replied saying that he had passed it on to the council. What is the point of this? It is just a carousel of emails going nowhere and just confirms what a waste of money it is providing councillors with facilities that they do not use properly. I am also waiting for an email from David Smith who promised last summer to investiagte another issue. The Conservatives seem the worst for not doing anything with emails they receive – it is like a political black hole.

  3. Valerie Paynter, saveHOVE Reply

    Trouble with councillors is few have any relevant specialist knowledge to bring to the job.

    Employed council officers have all the knowledge and expertise and councillors often as not are just go-betweens toeing political lines. There are some cracking exceptions, I hasten to add. These interrogate and research and don’t just vacantly relay officers’ replies to hapless residents who hoped for better.

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