Should our taxes pay for politicians' iPads?

Summary:If you break down the numbers, compared to environmental savings, productivity, and efficiency, an iPad for every politician could cost taxpayers mere pennies.

Since the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal, every pound and penny spent by the UK's elected representatives, government members, and politicians have been scrutinised and ripped apart by the British media.

The scandal revolved around one single leak to the Telegraph newspaper, where every British member of Parliament (MPs), including constituency representatives in the House of Commons, and peers in the House of Lords, had their expenses and allowances leaked and were published in a full, unredacted format.

There was literally nothing else on the news for weeks. Oh, something about a flu pandemic? Who knows.

Now that normality has returned, though with greater controls and auditing to ensure the system is no longer abused, it was uncovered by the BBC that around 70 MPs have already expensed their iPad purchases.

Only today, a UK parliamentary committee has delayed a decision on whether all British MPs should be issued with iPads or other tablet computers. A decision will be made at the next meeting on April 30.

While the Prime Minister may want to use his to play Angry Birds, and others will prefer to shuffle paper in their hands, iPads could revolutionise how UK politics functions, even if it is at a cost to the taxpayer.

How much would it really cost?

For a start, here in the United Kingdom, we're already given a duff deal, in that iPads cost around 25 percent more than they do in the United States due to additional value-added taxes.

An iPad 3 costs $499 (around £310). Across the pond to the UK, it costs nearly a quarter more at £399 ($640). That extra £90 goes straight out of our pockets and into that of the Treasury.

Take a side note for a second.

The British Monarchy costs each taxpayer in the UK around 55p ($0.87) per year as of estimates based on 2009-10 and 2010-11. Considering how much the Monarchy brings in through tourism, international trade relations, and the flogging of merchandise by third-parties, the taxpayers reap the rewards in returns. At least from a financial point of view, one suspects the United Kingdom won't be called the United Republic any time soon.

Compare this to iPads for politicians.

(Even though only MPs are eligible, my mathematical skills are so poor that I had to do this again with larger numbers. I simply can't work with decimal points. Stick with me; it'll make sense.)

There are currently 650 members of the House of Commons, and 778 members of the House of Lords, Parliament's lower and upper house respectively. Let's say then, accounting that some members have recently been sacked, died, or are serving in the European Parliament and therefore don't need one, let's take a rounded estimate and call it 1,400 people.

An iPad 3 (Wi-Fi only, 16GB) costs £399. But this would not be suitable for a Parliamentarian's life. It makes more sense if these busy people, who need to travel from their constituency to London, and often work whilst travelling, to have a 4G-enabled (16GB) iPad 3 costing £499; notwithstanding the fact that the UK has yet to roll out a 4G network, and the iPad 3 won't run on a British 4G network anyway.

In total makes an initial bulk payment of £698,600 ($1.12m).

Throw in a liberal data plan of 3GB per month on Vodafone, the cheapest network per the upper data cap limit, and this adds £15 ($24) more per person per month. This totals £21,000 ($33,504) per month for all members of Parliament.

Assuming the contract runs for 1 year, this could cost £252,000 ($402,053), around a third of the initial cost of the iPad.

Putting the numbers together --- the devices, plus the additional data plans --- an iPad 3 for every member of the UK Parliament for one whole year will cost a massive: £950,600 ($1.51 million).

Sounds like a lot if you put it like that. Remember the Monarchy costs the UK taxpayer roughly 55p ($0.87) per year? In comparison, an iPad for every Parliamentarian would cost less than 2p per person.

I'm a taxpayer. If a member of Parliament serving me as a constituent would get work done faster, more efficiently, and ultimately in a near-paperless way, helping save the environment in the process and being more productive, then I'm happy to throw a couple of pennies their way.

What about you?

Image credit: Adriano Aurelio Araujo/Flickr.

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Topics: iPad, Mobility

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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