ALMOST £50,000 is being spent giving trendy iPads to councillors and top officials in what they claim is a bid to cut paper waste.
All 58 councillors and 25 top officials at Edinburgh City Council will be given a free iPad and a new Wi-Fi system is being installed at the city chambers.
The council puts the cost of the 83 iPad 2s at £18,000 and the Wi-Fi system at £29,000 – giving a bill to hard-pressed taxpayers of £47,000.
Critics accused the council of indulging itself with flashy gadgets and predicted the move would fail to save on waste paper.
But the authority claims the savings from no longer printing committee papers will amount to £200,000 annually.
It is believed to be the first time a Scottish council has moved to paper-free meetings.
The touch screen gadgets, which come with a camera and video recording as well as iTunes, would cost between £27,307 and £54,697 if bought direct from Apple.
The decision to buy the iPads was taken by the previous SNP-Lib-Dem administration and has been rubber-stamped by the new Labour-SNP coalition which took power following the May 3 local elections.
Council leader Andrew Burns defended the spending.
He said: “We need to be a modern organisation that embraces technology, using it to save money and improve how we do business.”
Alastair Maclennan, director of corporate governance, said: “Such innovations are standard practice in the business world and we need to do the same.
“It also pays for itself in the first year and provides recurring benefits.”
But John Stevenson, president of the City Council’s Unison branch, said the computers hundreds of workers had to use every day were sub-standard.
He said: “They would be better looking at the computer system for everyone in the council and getting that fit for purpose because it’s not at the moment.
“It’s slow, clunky and you have to wait ages to do anything.“
Robert Oxley, of campaign group Taxpayer Scotland said: “Edinburgh City council are right to want to save money on paper, but the solution isn’t to spend tens of thousands of pounds on iPads for councillors.
“Taxpayers don’t mind paying for technology to help councillors do their job, but this is a premium product and there are cheaper options.”
And Tory group leader Jeremy Balfour said: “Anyone who gets an iPad should give a guarantee that they won’t ask for a set of papers or print them out.
“You can’t end up with people having iPads and printing things out as well or it won’t save any money.”
Another Tory councillor said electronic papers were not substitute for the real thing.
Alan Jackson said: “I prefer to read through the reports, earmark them, highlight passages and make notes in the margins at meetings, then I can keep them for a while and look back and see what was said.”
An Edinburgh council spokesman said: “Our assessment was also that iPads were better for general usability, security and future capabilities.
“As the papers are online anyone can print them off. However, even a 50% cut in printing will save money.
“We will be working with members and others to ensure that the new way of working is effective and trying to continually reduce the amount of paper produced.
“We don’t expect meetings will become 100% paperless and it will take some time for iPads to be established. A conservative estimate of reducing printing will save around £100,000 per year, with the aim to reach at least 80% within a few years.
“Overall, our projections are for this to save more than £400,000 over the next five years.”
Pupils at Sciennes Primary School in Edinburgh are already using iPads, and the Scottish Government is exploring how the tablet computers can be used in the classroom.
The council confirmed councillors would be able to download their own apps, such as the hugely popular game Angry Birds, onto the iPads.
Though a spokesman said they would keep the use of the tablets under review.