Cr Andrew Phillips was one of only a few councillors tapping and typing away on a new silver Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet at last week’s council meeting.
Brand new Microsoft tablets replace two-year-old iPads
By Gav Ross
BASS Coast Shire councillors have been handed over $10,000 worth of new computer equipment to replace iPads which were barely two years old.
In another example of frivolous spending when the organisation is under scrutiny for exorbitant staff wages and ongoing rate increases, all seven councillors have each been given one of Microsoft’s latest tablet marvels, the Surface Pro 3 (SP3), and accessories totalling $1450 per machine.
These aren’t the only Surface Pros purchased by the organisation, with confirmation from a senior officer that an additional 16 new Microsoft tablets were bought for council staff since the beginning of the year, bringing the tablet bill to over $33,000.
Despite the significant investment, less than half of the councillors could be spotted using their new toys at last week’s council meeting.
Soon after the last council election in 2012, Apple iPads were purchased for councillors and senior officers in an effort to increase efficiency and reduce paper waste.
The council’s general manager of governance and organisational development, Mark Brady, said the iPads have now been replaced “as part of our regular turnover of IT equipment” which, in local government, apparently occurs once every two-to-three years.
“The iPads were two years old and Apple’s operating system doesn’t sync well with our Windows Exchange server system,” Mr Brady explained, adding that the Surface Pro tablets require less IT support.
He said there were calendar and mail synchronisation issues with the iPads, and Microsoft Office could not run on the iPad’s operating system.
“Council is also moving to Windows 8 operating system which the SP3s have,” he added.
“Our IT team researched the best fit and value for the needs of the councillors – and that also meets our Councillor IT Equipment Policy criteria.”
The council has already decided to offload the ‘old’ iPads to a computer recycling company.
Whilst costing far more than a regular iPad, a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is marketed as containing all the power of a laptop computer in tablet form.
Mr Brady says the Surface Pros are replacing both the councillors’ ‘tablet and laptop’ requirement in the official Provision of Resources to Councillors Policy.
The models recently handed to councillors aren’t the cheapest, base Surface Pro models, either – plus they’ve been delivered with all the trimmings.
Accessories that came with each tablet include a dock, keyboard, mouse, stylus and display adapter.
Mr Brady said the tablets were funded through the council’s centralised IT budget.
He also said the tablets purchased for council staff replace both a laptop and desktop PC, and therefore work out as a cheaper option.
Confirmation of what was spent on the new tablets comes at the same time as council is asking the community to comment on its ten-year Long Term Financial Plan, released last week.
The plan proposes to cap spending on services, with operational growth capped at 4.5 per cent for the first year and 3.5 per cent each year thereafter.
As revealed in a Sentinel-Times editorial last week, unsustainably low rate revenue for the council means Bass Coast is missing out on up to $8 million annually – a loss which is compounded by employee costs at Bass Coast being $6 million higher than similar councils.
Brown not surprised
Informed of the council’s latest splurge, former MP and Borough of Wonthaggi Mayor Alan Brown said it was “typical” of this council and many ratepayers would view the purchases as councillors and staff “looking after themselves”.
“Regardless of what council spin doctors will say, the fact is that the two year-old equipment these tablets replaced would have been functioning perfectly well and would not have been needed to be changed over,” Mr Brown said.
“Most people and businesses in Bass Coast who rely on and utilise this sort of equipment extensively do not replace them anywhere near as early as two year intervals.
“There are literally hundreds of single parent and low-income families throughout Bass Coast who would dearly love to buy even the cheapest tablet or iPad for their children who are at school but simply cannot afford them.
“These people are struggling to pay their bills and day to day living costs and for them such a purchase is out of the question.”
Mr Brown called on the council to donate what he described as perfectly good two year-old equipment to an organisation such as the Bass Coast Community Foundation for distribution to families who cannot afford such items.
“At least there will be some good come out of this extravagance rather than either scrap them or send them off for recycling,” he said.
“The Bass Coast Community Foundation works with schools throughout Bass Coast each year to distribute back to school vouchers to needy families.
“If their children can receive a perfectly good laptop or iPad it will be a godsend for them.”
Le Serve happy to turf iPad
ONE councillor who has welcomed the arrival of the new Microsoft tablets is Clare Le Serve.
The former Mayor said she lost 15 months of notes on her council iPad after failing to back her data up properly.
She says that this loss of information, along with many other “frustrations” relating to synching emails and calendar to other devices, led her to complain about the iPads to council’s IT department.
“They were a great idea, but a bit limited,” she said of the iPads.
“I and a few of the other councillors complained about them, and some of us didn’t really use them.”
Cr Le Serve says the Surface Pro 3 is a vast improvement, with simple things like the ability to use a USB stick (iPads don’t have such ports) making life much easier.
Asked whether she thought purchasing the equipment was an extravagance, she said it was “certainly a lot” but stressed the importance of councillors needing up-to-date equipment they can easily use.
“It’s really about the necessity of councillors being brought up to date with the IT upgrade within council,” she said.
“I found the iPad was good at taking photos but the Surface Pro allows me to do that and a lot more.”
“I intend to use mine much more.”