Quite a kerfuffle surrounding the story about Leicester City councillors being given iPads. At a time when great attention is being to public sector costs, the idea that city councillors are set to spend £40,000 on some new toys seems to have captured people's attention. It's hardly surprising: at a time when people are being laid off, it seems that the coalition government's exhortations to keep costs down doesn't apply to politicians themselves.

However, that doesn't appear to be quite the story,. The truth, according to a councillors' blog,  is more prosaic, is that four councillors are using iPads in a trial and, while there are no plans to buy them en masse, councillors could choose to spend their existing budget on them. So, no story then.

Well, not quite, that explanation throws up as many questions as the original story did. For a start, why is there no standard policy for councillors' procurement. Councillor Ross Grant says that there are plenty of apps for the iPad but what about the councillors who don't have iPads? It seems like a very disjointed policy. Then there's the operational costs - Grant says that he likes the always-on nature of the iPad. Fine but 3G is not a cheap option - n doubt that he's happy with the extra cost, after all - he's not the one paying it.Then there's the question of iPad security - it can be secure but it's not a given. And let's not mention the closed, proprietary operating system.

But what intrigues me most is that the hoary old myth of the paperless office, raises its head again. I started writing about IT in the 1980s, when the "paperless office" was just around the corner, it still remains around the corner, while desks continue to be piled high with paper. The idea that a bureaucracy, like a city council, could remain paperless is a joke.

What would be good is for city councillors to stop coming up with spurious justifications for proprietary gadgets and start looking at ways to opening up data. There's still too much data hidden, there's still too much data hidden in proprietary systems and there's still too much paper.

Just this week, free information campaigner Heather Brooke, tweeted, about an unnamed council. "I am so fed up with UK public bodies STILL using pdf when they give the public data. Not an accident - wilful obstruction." Little sign of a paperless office there.


What we'd really like Leicester City councillors to say is "We're looking at ways to make more data available to councillors and the general public and to move away from all proprietary formats. We're going to make better use of open standards, start promoting the use of ODF throughout the city and encourage developers to produce their own apps using city council data."<

That's what we'd like them to say but, to be honest, there's more chance of Leicester City winning the Champions League than that happening.

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