What I fear about paperless committees

Nottingham City Council’s Labour group took hundreds of thousands of pounds out of the budget for Committee Services this year on the basis that all the councillors could get laptops and work paperlessly from here on in.

There are many reasons why there are problems with this, not least that many of the councillors are not very happy with IT, the email system isn’t too good, and that laptops for everyone will cost a small fortune.

I’m more than happy to go paperless myself. I’m probably one of the very few councillors who processes more text electronically than on paper anyway, given that my social life is largely online and one of the strands of my work as a Lib Dem involves helping ineffectually keep LDV fresh.

But I am a bit worried about going into committees armed with a laptop. In one of the many meetings on the subject so far, I think I let my feelings show in front of the talented council employee in charge of the committee clerks who keeps the meetings running. For a few people, committees are the be all and the end all of their professional lives. For many more of us present at them, they are a chore that get in the way of other work we do. Armed with a laptop, it will be very tempting to get on with other work and pay still less attention to the proceedings of committee than we do when we are doodling on our papers.

But most of all, I think I’m worried about this:

fail owned pwned pictures
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6 comments on “What I fear about paperless committees

  1. Andy says:

    “…not least that many of the councillors are not very happy with IT…”

    Oh come on, tell em to get a grip. Or retrain them.

    “…the email system isn’t too good…”

    Well, that’s an improvement on ‘totally unusable’ like it was when I was there…

    “But I am a bit worried about going into committees armed with a laptop.”

    Why would you go into a committee with a laptop? Surely whoever took the minutes before will still do so and email them on to you?
    You can take a pen and paper in if you like as well. Or a Nokia N96.

    “Armed with a laptop, it will be very tempting to get on with other work and pay still less attention to the proceedings of committee than we do when we are doodling on our papers.”

    I’m hoping this is a joke.

    Sorry, as a council tax payer I would hope that genuine efficiency measures should be embraced. Resources saved could be re-invested in proper councillor work. And less paper means we can hug more trees.

    Come on, get a grip man.

  2. niles says:

    Hmm, this post was a slightly flippant response to a serious issue on the council prompted by the image of the US congress / senate whatever it is not taking some speech terribly seriously.

    Anyway, since you raised the issues – retrain them? Will work for some but not all – and there are some councillors who have never used computers and seem to have vowed they never will. Being a councillor is one of those very rare occupations with no minimum requirements, other than finding favour with the electorate every four years.

    Why would I go into ctte with a laptop? Because the laptop will be where the minutes and agenda and information will be, once the Council stops printing them. It’s supposed to be a paperless system.

    I already go into committees with my N95 8GB – it helps me twitter from meetings – but the screen is far to small to use it to read committee minutes, or navigate documents effectively while people are talking.

    “genuine efficiency measures” – well that’s never that simple, is it? And is this an efficiency measure or a gimmick? By the time you’ve bought 55 laptops and trained people to use them, not to mention writing some software to make sure Committee Online works with the new laptops, and dealt with all the viruses, and not to mention the inevitable few who will just end up printing off the papers on other Council printers… will you actually save any money? There’s got to be a reason no other council in the country save Omagh in N.I. is doing anything like it.

    The stupidest thing about it all so far is that the plan seems to be to get cllrs to take laptops into meetings with us… and not give us anywhere to plug them in! Some meetings last longer than batteries do.

    I’m always in a weird position when it comes to this issue, because as far as I can tell, I’m one of the very few councillors who is quite looking forward to working off a computer during meetings. And yet I also have to defend those of my colleagues who are less keen.

  3. Andy says:

    Can’t help wondering if there’s a teeny bit of photoshop going on in the pic. The screens with solitaire on them look suspiciously higher res than everything else around them…

    But seriously, it’s a big issue if there are still people who are supposed to be taking decisions on our behalf in 2009 who are still not happy with using computers.

    “…to get cllrs to take laptops into meetings with us… and not give us anywhere to plug them in!…”

    Oh eck yeah you’re doomed.

    I think what I’d do is start a project to IT up the council chamber using ‘dumb’ terminals networked up. Tbh there’s no excuse for it not to be networked up anyway. Or you can get netbooks for £200 a pop but networking is still an essential imho.

    I worked at Leicester CC for about 5 years and when I started there I was amazed at how far ahead they were than NCC with IT. Then when I came back I was very depressed about how far behind NCC still were.

    Anyway, I have no idea why I’m lecturing you about IT at this time of night, I’m drunk as a lord, it’s now my 40th birthday and I’m off to a festie tomorrow.

    Toodles

  4. Brian Robson says:

    We discussed this in Lewisham. The consensus was that you’d just end up with lots of councillors printing things at home rather than someone at the Town Hall doing it in bulk.
    I’m happy to receieve committee summons and licensing applications etc online, but we agreed that agendas for scrutiny and full council should still be provided on paper. We’ve got a fairly young council (mainly helped by our group) but even some of us young uns still wanted a paper agenda you can stick notes and post-its on before the meeting and then make notes on during the mtg.
    I got a tablet from the Council when I was first elected, seriously intending to use it to make notes on etc so I didn’t end up with a filing cabinet full of paper, but it’s just not the same, and the Council IT isn’t reliable enough, frankly.

  5. […] 04/09/2009 — Kristan Smith I’ve been reading Alex Fosters blog post over at his niles website. During the post he raises some pertinent points. “There are many reasons why there are […]

  6. […] On the council last year, we had a paperless committee pilot. I’ve not got around to writing about that here seriously, but there is a lighthearted look and some serious comments here. […]

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