Winchester implements councillor meetings app

City council aims to save £90,000 and improve email security by giving councillors access to reports via iPads

Winchester City Council has set up an a mobile app enabling councillors and officers to access documents such as committee and planning meeting papers, with a forecast it will provide savings of £90,000 and increase the security of remote email access.

The council said will make the saving over three years from the reduction of paper and printing costs.

It now has 45 councillors and around 50 officers using the ModernGov app, which cost £13,000 to purchase following a month-long pilot.

Stephen GodfreyAccording to Councillor Stephen Godfrey (pictured), portfolio holder for professional services, financial services and revenues & benefits, printing costs of committee papers alone were “getting on for £30,000” as well as costing the council £5,500 on postage.

“We were going to planning meetings, for instance, with great wads of paper for (planning) applications,” Godfrey said. It is not unusual, he said, for members to print out around 200 page documents per meeting.

The app will allow councillors to more easily make notes, highlight and create ‘milestones’ in meeting documents and reports and keep better track of decisions. “It’s a really easy way to scan through the paperwork,” Godfrey said. “You can quickly flick from note to note to make sure questions or points you want to make are easy to find within the document.”

Increased security

The move was triggered by the need to safeguard council data, according to Godfrey.

“We need to make sure we’ve got better control of data as we move into the era of GDPR. We must make sure sensitive data is properly secure, using secure networks, not just home networks,” he said.

As part of the initiative, councillors were given iPads with integral biometric fingerprint recognition access at a one-off cost of around £20,000.

“I’ve particularly noticed we can access our email much more easily," Godfrey added. "Previously we needed security tokens and two-factor log-in to remotely access email accounts. Now we can securely access emails at the press of button, with a fingerprint on the device.”

He said that members had been using insecure personal accounts as a way around security barriers and that: “It’s not good practice. We needed to make it easier (to securely access email).”

He added that there was an “inevitable” barrier that has traditionally seen slower take-up of digital solutions by councillors.

“Being a local government councillor does attract older citizens. Nearly 50% at Winchester are working age. We’re an exception – we have a younger group than many others.”