Row over smart phone spend

Local councillors are to make a call on whether they all receive the latest iPhones at a cost of more than £14,000.

Craigavon Lakes and Civic Centre. INPT24-300.
Craigavon Lakes and Civic Centre. INPT24-300.
Craigavon Lakes and Civic Centre. INPT24-300.

Although recommended by council officials, some councillors at Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council were concerned at the high cost.

Council officers explained that because of data protection issues, councillors were required to have a separate phone to deal with council business.

The proposed phones could be bought for around £350 each.

Sinn Fein Cllr Catherine Seeley was concerned at supplying smart phones to members and emphasised the need for a business case in light of Council’s accountability to ratepayers.

Party colleague Gemma McKenna queried the costs incurred on members’ technology provision to date.

She said iPads and laptops could be used to send emails and if a separate work phone was necessary, then Members could purchase a low-cost one with a top-up facility; therefore she queried the justification for purchasing a smartphone and enquired which budget would fund this.

DUP Cllr Mark Baxter proposed that council should supply members with paper and ink for printers.

Ulster Unionist Cllr Jim Speers asked what the status was at other councils.

He cautioned that if the council proceed it could leave it open to a challenge by the Local Government Auditor.

SDLP Cllr Joe Nelson that the Information Commissioner’s recommendation was quite clear and if having a separate work phone helped him meet his responsibilities as a Member in terms of data protection etc. then he was content to accept the measure.

Cllr McKenna proposed that, due to the significant expenditure involved, a written report be presented to the next Committee meeting detailing the business case for a work phone/smartphone, the cost involved and the budget source.

Council Chief Executive suggested that the final decision would rest with full Council and the next meeting of the Party Leaders Forum represented an opportunity to discuss the matter within parties and perhaps reach a concession before the Council meeting.

A Council spokesperson confirmed that the matter had been deferred back to the Governance Policy and Resources Committee for a review of costs.