Council spends £72,500 on smartphones

Blackberry smartphone
Blackberry smartphone
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A COUNCIL was today blasted for spending £72,500 on mobile phones for its staff.

A Freedom of Information request by The Gazette revealed 1,500 staff at Lancashire County Council have a £50 BlackBerry issued to them, including six councillors in Fylde and eight councillors in Wyre.

An additional £15 per month is spent on the corporate tariff which is 2.6p per minute for calls and 3.5p per text.

Derek Bunting, a council tax campaigner from Bispham, said there was no need to be spending taxpayers’ money on mobile phones.

He said: “This is another example of misusing our council tax.

“I know the council have got to communicate but it seems to me that it’s out of control.

“I’m most concerned about the fact there doesn’t seem to be any control over who has them or who uses them.”

BlackBerry smartphones are preferred by many organisations for their ability to send and receive e-mails, making them an easy to use business tool.

Jill Brownhill, from Knowsley Avenue, Blackpool, has campaigned on taxpayers’ issues over the years and says the money has not been spent wisely.

She said: “The money could have been spent elsewhere to help services closing down.

“There are services that are going to end because there’s no money and the people who use them really need it.

“There is so much waste going on I don’t know where to start.

“Councillors should look at their own town hall and officers, see where the money is going, and review what they are spending money on. I don’t think they take the time to look into these things but maybe they will start because nobody likes to see money being wasted.”

Mark Menzies, MP for Fylde, has questioned the decision to pay for the smartphones.

He said: “At a time when certain services are being cut because of the difficult financial situation the country is in, I think the public will find it very difficult to accept this level of spending on mobile phones.

“Communication is vital to running efficient organisations though so I do have some sympathy for the need to be able to contact senior staff quickly and effectively and via e-mail to send longer documents.

“I would question, however, if the public will see this as frontline, essential spending.”

Emma Boon, from the Taxpayers Alliance, says the council should continue to review their mobile phone policy to maintain its value for money.

She said: “Mobile phones can help council staff to work more efficiently as they can get things done on the go, but only staff who really need one should be offered one.

“Mobiles needn’t cost a fortune and all councils should check that they are getting the best value possible for taxpayers’ money.”

But Phil Halsall, chief executive of Lancashire County Council, has backed the county council to continue handing out BlackBerrys. He said: “It is essential that county councillors are easily contactable at all times to give the best service to residents in their electoral area.

“As county councillors spend a large proportion of their time away from the office attending meetings or other functions, they are offered use of a Blackberry for official county council business.

“This enables them to communicate by e-mail or phone with constituents and officers at any time and from any location, and transmit and receive information over a secure network.”