Anger at council's phones

TAX campaigners last night rounded on Suffolk County Council after it emerged the authority had splurged out on top-of-the-range mobile telephones for all 75 of its members.

TAX campaigners last night rounded on Suffolk County Council after it emerged the authority had splurged out on top-of-the-range mobile telephones for all 75 of its members.

The new devices given to councillors are the Blackberry Bold 9000 Smartphone, which sell in the shops for about �400.

Although the exact amount spent on the telephones by the county council is not clear, it is understood the authority has received a large discount by joining a national scheme. It defended the spend claiming they ensure 'councillors can work efficiently at all times' and saved the taxpayer cash compared with installing new telephone lines in its members' homes.

Even so, tax campaigners have labelled the council's decision to buy the phones, which can be used for emails, surfing the internet, listening to music, watching video, and as a global positioning system, 'excessive'.

Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'It is hard to believe that every single councillor really needs - or will even use - a taxpayer-funded Blackberry.

'It may well be necessary for some senior council officers to have them, and perhaps even some cabinet members, but this is excessive.

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'It is sometimes tempting for councils to get too carried away with their own corporate prestige, and taxpayers end up paying the price.

'In the middle of a recession, with Suffolk families struggling to get by, the council should be far more careful with taxpayers' money.'

Reg Hartles, of Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, said: 'It sounds like a lot of taxpayer money when we should be looking at cheaper models. It doesn't always have to be the very best gadget in the range and if you can save a bit of money then that's always a good thing. Let's hope the council has a very good reason for buying these.'

A spokesman for the county council said: 'All councillors have been offered mobile email and phone calls on Blackberry devices, at significant savings compared to the previous system of phone calls from business phone lines in each councillor's home. Call costs are now at least halved per minute on the Blackberrys compared to the previous BT charges we paid.

'The council makes considerable savings by joining nation-wide contracts for local government for all these devices and connections, making them much cheaper than the standard cost for an individual.

'Councillors can often make effective use of email while away from home or office. The new systems are a cost-effective way of ensuring councillors can work efficiently at all times.'

Newly elected Green councillor Mark Ereira said he had been offered one of the internet-enabled Blackberry telephones, a new laptop computer and a printer.

He said he declined the printer and the computer, but accepted the telephone. 'To be honest I do appreciate having a new council number which isn't my business/home mobile and landline and so does my wife,' Mr Ereira said. 'Thus, for me, the only bit of equipment that I have been given is the blackberry to do my work as councillor.

'My key point would be that it is people's hotline directly to their councillor - and as it is publicly provided the number should be as widely available for people to then contact them, like the email address.'

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