There are a few inconsistancies in the Crawley News story about county councillor expenses which are genuinely baffling.
One councillor, Brenda Smith, claims that the council’s email system is a secure system which you can’t access using your own computer so you have to have county council hardware to access it.
Another councillor, Duncan Crow, claims for broadband but is not supplied with a computer.
Those two things make no sense together.Â If it is true that the council’s systems are secured and cannot be accessed using non-council equipment then that broadband expense is a waste since it can’t be used for council business.Â If Duncan Crow is conducting council business with that broadband link then Brenda could be using her own PC .
I know Brenda wouldn’t lie about this, but she would happily admit to not being a computer expert.Â If she says the system is secure it will be because somebody in the council’s IT department told her so.Â Â I could believe it either way.Â There is nothing to stop a council, or company, setting up a secure VPN link in such a way that their system could be accessed from anywhere, but lots choose to make it more secure and limit access to their own hardware.
I’m not sure I like the tone of the story though.Â Councils are moving towards providing more and more information electronically instead of printing everything out and the last thing councillors, even Tory ones, need is the suggestion that they are freeloading because they are provided with the means to read those documents.Â I have used corporate and council laptops in the past and they are not perks as they are normally useless for doing anything fun.
Crawley council used to have a policy about providing either a laptop or a BlackBerry, which was a bit foolish, though the BB was still experimental at the time.Â A BB is great for being able to get emails and check diaries on the move, much easier than opening up a laptop, firing it up, finding a wifi hotspot, but not good for reading a large PDF or writing long documents.Â I can see sound reasons for having both.
It looks to me like the News have just read a county council press release, stretched it out, and padded it with some quotes without any attempt to understand what it means or verify any of the technical details with the council’s IT department.Â They have ignored the anomalies, possibly because they haven’t understood it enough to realise that there are anomalies.
A decent version of this would have asked:
- How can one councillor get broadband provided without any equipment to make use of it?
- What happens to emails sent to the councillors with no IT provision?Â Do they only get read when they visit Chichester?
- Do councillors with laptops get sent less paper than the others?
- Are the non-IT councillors preventing the council from saving money by moving entirely to electronic delivery?
- Could the council save money by letting councillors access systems from their own PCs?
- What sort of security/encryption is there on council-provided laptops to protect information on them or access to central systems from them?
- Is there any scope for county and district councils to collaborate so that somebody who is a member of both can use just one PC and not need a county computer and a district computer?Â And has any comparison been made between what dual-council members claim at district and county level – not just in IT?
- What is the Â£400 annual cost for a laptop for?
I’m sure there are good answers to these questions, but they won’t get them by asking councillors (OK, maybe Bob Lanzer would know the technical side).Â That is just off the top of my head.
What could have been an informative article or even a useful investigation is just churnalistic filler.Â Funny how it appears a month before some of these councillors are up for election in the Crawley borough elections though.