UP to £60m of taxpayers’ cash is being lavished on buying hundreds of thousands of iPads for public sector workers.
The Scottish Government is planning to buy around 300,000 of the trendy devices for councils, NHS staff and other workers.
Ministers claim the project – dubbed Alex Salmond’s Aye Pads – will put staff at the heart of the IT revolution.
And they further justified the splurge on tablet computers by claiming they would make great savings buying in bulk.
But critics said the spending was impossible to justify to ordinary Scots at a time on continuing austerity.
Staff in prisons, universities, colleges, courts and various quangos also will be provided with the devices under the plan, called the “National Framework for Notebook & Tablet Computing”.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “A key part of this contract will be to allow professionals like teachers to access the latest IT technology to meet educational needs at best possible value for taxpayers.”
A contract put out for tender, worth between £27 million and £60 million, says the closing date for applications is in January.
The higher figure would buy around 200,000 iPads at typical shop prices.
But a government bulk order of iPads could bring the price down to around £200, meaning as many as 300,000 of the devices could be bought.
Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale questioned the spending.
“In one sense it makes sense to buy in bulk and you should save money,” she said. “But technology is changing so fast you have to be careful you don’t end up out of date very quickly.
“I don’t think any public money should be spent in this way unless they can show they will save the equivalent amount in printing and paper use.
“I’ve not seen anything to suggest they can save £60 million in photocopying.”
She added: “If you are making an order so big, you are limiting the number of companies that can bid to provide it and you won’t necessarily save the money you expected.”
A Scottish Government insider admitted: “Most people can’t afford an iPad of their own so they will probably find this hard to stomach.
“It looks like a perk.
“After a period where there has been nothing but austerity cuts it looks like a perk being handed out. In terms of PR, it’s a bit of a major own goal.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “This is a contract for the whole of the public sector – so that includes our universities, colleges and schools.
“Rather than having to go out and buy individual tablets as an organisation, public bodies across Scotland will be able to access them under this contract, ensuring they get them at a better price.”
Earlier this year, Edinburgh council spent £47,000 on iPads for 58 councillors and 25 council bosses – while Stirling Council spent £8,800 on electronic tablets for 22 councillors in a bid to cut down on paper.
But figures revealed in a freedom of information request showed both bodies has spent more on paper since handing out the devices.
In May authorities in Edinburgh said the iPads would save them “£400,000 over the next five years” while Stirling argued they would make cut back “£450,000-a-year on running costs”.
But according to the projections from quarterly figures revealed in October, bosses in the Capital were set to spend an extra £168,000 on printing costs and Stirling will spend an extra £89,479.