AROUND £40,000 of taxpayers’ money is being spent on a worker dedicated to helping councillors with their computers.
New Forest District Council has budgeted £120,000 in the three years to 2021/22, with the bulk of it funding a new employee assisting the authority’s 60 members.
The cash has been made available as part of combined spending of just over £3m by the authority to update systems and shift over several years towards more digital operations by its councillors and employees.
The information and communications technology (ICT) support worker will also lend their expertise to NFDC’s democratic services department.
The ICT spending was laid out in an update during a meeting of NFDC’s corporate overview and scrutiny panel.
Panel chair Cllr Alexis McEvoy defended the spending, saying it was needed to support members adopting new technology as the council shifted from its “antiquated” previous systems.
“There’s so much to do and you have councillors moving onto digital as well. We have some who do not do much digitally, and there’s a lot of learning and support to be carried out,” she said.
“If you have 60 councillors ringing up because their ICT’s not working properly or they can’t get onto it, then you’re taking away from the process of upgrading the council’s systems.”
She added: “It’s something that’s necessary at the moment until everything is running smoothly.”
She also pointed out the £40,000 was not the salary but also covered national insurance, pension and other costs.
The ICT policy was agreed by the ruling cabinet in 2017 with an original three-year budget of £1.5m, on top of £715,000 for new equipment over four years. It has since grown with further commitments, including replacing the telephone and document management systems.
The report said: “The council has taken some very big strides to transform its ICT since 2017, moving from an ICT environment more reminiscent of the late 1990s to an up-to-date one that is delivering improvements today.
“In doing so, the council has also positioned itself for tomorrow and beyond.”
An NFDC spokesperson told the A&T: “The £40,000 budgeted per year for members’ ICT support reflects the recruitment of a new officer role – salary plus on-costs – that is leading on a number of initiatives to enhance the council’s use of ICT as part of the democratic process.
“The role will work alongside ICT services in progressing the council’s smarter working initiatives for elected members, support members’ individual ICT requirements, and manage the various ICT systems used by elected members and the democratic services team.”