THE Scottish Government has been condemned over its plans to spend £50m on a “toy box” of iPads for public sector workers.
Staff ranging from CalMac Ferries to Glasgow School of Art and the Northern Lighthouse Board are in line for the £300-a-time gadgets.
Ministers have already spent £25.5m on 83,000 on the gadgets in recent years, claiming they saved £4.5m.
A new contract for tablets shows they are preparing to double that spending in the next four years.
A further 160,000 iPads – or their Android equivalents – will be handed out to workers at government departments and quangos such as the Cairngorm National Park Authority, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and Forestry Commission.
The devices have not always delivered the savings promised.
In 2012 Edinburgh and Stirling councils spent £55,800 on top of the range tablets in a bid to reduce paper and save money.
Edinburgh bosses boasted that the iPads would save them £400,000 over the next five years, whilst Stirling councillors claimed they would cut back £450,000.
But figures showed that in the months following their purchase, printing costs actually rose by thousands of pounds.
In October of that year it was projected that in spite of purchasing the tablets Edinburgh Council would in fact spend an extra £168,000 on printing over the period, whilst Stirling would spend an extra £90,000.
In September 2013 a senior Tory councillor in Edinburgh – Jeremy Balfour – was caught on camera using a taxpayer-funded iPad to play solitaire during a committee meeting.
He apologised at the time, saying: “We were going round in circles and I probably just lost concentration. I apologise for doing that.
“I was listening at the same time, but that’s one of the disadvantages of having the iPads – that you can be distracted.”
Eben Wilson – head of Taxpayer Scotland – added: “The existence of such a massive central procurement plan is concerning.
“To have such a huge toy box available to all of Scotland’s public agencies is likely, in our view, to lead to over demand and under use of these devices as workflow enhancing systems.
“They can, indeed, become toys which are abused and used for the wrong purposes”.
“We hope that, despite the central pool and its aim of obtaining a low price for all, strict use controls and proper audit of the value these devices provide is also put in place across the whole public sector.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont commented: “Tablets are indeed a luxury and the SNP government need to demonstrate this will deliver value for the taxpayer.”
A government spokesman defended the project, saying: “This procurement is a re-let of a current collaborative framework which has been extremely successful and has attracted very high levels of uptake across the Scottish public sector – not just the Scottish Government.
“Over 83,000 tablet devices with various operating systems have been purchased delivering significant benefits, including savings of £4.5 million against a spend of £25.5 million.
“The current agreements have also had a significant and positive impact for learning and teaching, with over 2,500 teachers receiving training in the use of devices in the classroom.”