Should our taxes pay for politicians' iPads?

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.

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TOPICS: iPad, Mobility
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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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29 comments
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  • well . . .

    Well, on one hand, it is taxpayer money, and should be spent wisely.

    On the other hand - if it's their own personal paychecks, then they are free to spend the money as they please.

    Maybe it's time to just give them smaller paychecks if they are spending like this.

    Dunno how the system works in the UK, but the US is in the unfortunate position were our Congress essentially decides how big their own paychecks are :(.
    CobraA1
    • RE: Congress essentially decides how big their own paychecks are

      And for many (if not most) politicians that is their number 1 agenda. How can they fill their pockets with more cash at the expense of the people they are supposed to serve without doing anything to justify their paycheck.
      bobiroc
    • In the UK...

      ...members of the House of Commons are paid salaries, but their staffs are much smaller than those of members of the U.S. Congress. Members of the House of Lords (except for ministers) are reimbursed for their attendance-related expenses, but are otherwise unpaid.
      John L. Ries
  • Everything is mere pennies in the eyes of the politicians

    The problem is those pennies add up. Also if the tax payers are going to pay for an iPad or another product for a politician then it should be used strictly for their job and if they even use it for their personal entertainment then the politician should pay for it themselves.

    This is one of the things that drives me nuts about iPads and tablets. My organization has purchased iPads for some people as a device to be used for their job but when you look at them they are loaded with entertainment apps like games, netflix and others and they use it primarily to read books and do non-work related stuff. All of which is paid for by the organization. It drives me batty to see an iPad purchased for the classroom and to walk by and see a teacher playing Angry Birds while the students are taking a test or doing work or simply screwing around. It was this reason I chose to get a small stipend for my cell phone from my job instead of them paying for full service. Even though others do it I feel it is wrong to use a device purchased by your work for primarily personal reasons.
    bobiroc
    • You can download apps from several different accounts

      onto a single iPad. Just because a user loaded a game or something on there does not mean the company or organization paid for it...

      However, it is up to the Organization to have an acceptable use policy, and enforce policies on the iPad, which can be done from Microsoft Exchange, or other products like Mobile Iron is even better at this.

      However, in education, control like this is difficult to do, especially in higher ed, where instructors are experimenting with new apps to encourage learning, some Computer Programming classes need the ability to install things so students can learn to code etc.

      From a personal perspective, I don't care if people load apps from a personal account to use when they are at home with the iPad, it really isn't costing the organization anything, and like ours, we only ever buy the wifi only models, so it doesn't cost us anything in terms of cellular data, but again if they are reading books or watching movies to avoid work, then that is where trouble happens.
      Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
      • Multiple Accounts

        Do you have any information on how to do this multiple account thing on the iPad. This is an issue my organization is struggling with. I find they are purchasing these devices and just handing them over with no real structure or plan on what they are to be used for. To make matters worse they do not want to invest in back end management of these devices. They give them to the users and say "Figure out what to do with this" and the only real thing they use it for work for is to read email. Does separating accounts require a third party app because I find that the iTunes Apple ID associated with the device is tied to some iTunes account and there are number of purchases for books and apps that are not related to the organization or their jobs.
        bobiroc
      • @bobiroc

        Emm, ever opened the settings app b4? Anyways, if u do so, you can then change the apple account you use to login to the appstore, thus download stuff purchased with that separate account unto the uDevice. Been like that since iOS 2 :|
        MrElectrifyer
    • RE: Everything is mere pennies in the eyes of the politicians.

      Absolutely. It's easy to be irresponsible with someone else' money (i.e., the taxpayers'). The ability of legislators and other politicians to enrich themselves at no cost to themselves is a big reason why the US government (and other governments) is head-over-heels in debt. It also is another proof that small government is better government.
      sissy sue
      • But...

        ...even the smallest governments require legislative assemblies if they are to function on a constitutional basis.
        John L. Ries
    • This is about taxpayer money, bobiroc

      Not your usual, personal rants against the iPad.

      Try to stay on topic, please.
      ScorpioBlack
  • Depends on how they're used

    As I noted when we were discussing a plan in the Indian Parliament to issue tablets to members, parliamentary assemblies tend to have high printing costs (one printed copy of every proposal to every member can be very expensive, especially when there are many members). It might well be cheaper to issue a tablet to each member and then have the clerks maintain current copies of each proposal on a webserver and change them as amendments are approved. Members could then have the current text handy on the floor (or in committee) as they debate.

    Though maybe $1000 per device is a bit much; $300 is probably more like it (I don't know what the current exchange rates are, so don't ask me to convert into sterling).

    Edit: Given the high rate of absenteeism in the House of Lords, peers should probably be required to buy their own and then be eligible for reimbursement if they attend at least 75% of the time during the next year.

    Clarification:

    While Zack is talking about iPads, I'm talking generic tablets, not a particular brand. All that legislators really would need is the ability to view documents.
    John L. Ries
    • Absolutely!

      If my PM is more efficient with an iPad then he should have an iPad, and I'm quite content that taxpayers (including me) pay for this. Of course, title (ownership) of the device should stay with us (i.e. they don't get to keep it after they leave office) but otherwise - no problem.
      jeremychappell
      • Perhaps

        Computer equipment becomes obsolete rather quickly, so maybe you shouldn't give newly elected MPs their predecessors' tablets.
        John L. Ries
      • Print costs? Are you serious?

        We have been talking about reducing paper usage for decades and the technology has been there for half of that to all but eradicate the need for print. Guess what? We print more than ever! Printers print more books, people read more magazines, businesses dot more i's and cross more T's and politicians print more and larger legal documents, drafts and whitepapers. Giving them a tablet is not going to change that and you think of all the choices available, the best idea is to give them an iPad? You know - the one with iTunes? Come on are you people serious?

        By the way, I know all the drones around here barely remember last Wednesday, but tablets have also been around for a LONG time and no one was clamouring for politicans to have them way back then, were they? No... didnt think so
        12312332123
  • In the UK

    The iPad is the Bentley of the tablet world. If MPs were provided automobiles, I wouldn't expect them to drive a Ta Ta, but I don't think they should be provided a Bentley.
    mike five
  • NO

    NO NO NO

    Most politicians make enough money as a member of Congress or in their personal life to afford a $800 ipad, Blackberry, etc.. Chances are the device would also be used for personal usage.

    I pay all sorts of taxes on my families cell phones which in turn goes to the Gov't whether local/state/federal tax to be used to pay for a politicians phone somewhere down the line??? NO!
    jasonemmg
    • So what should members of Congress get?

      Remembering that it's a full time job and that members are constitutionally required to be residents of the states they represent (not the case with members of the British Parliament). Thus, they have to spend much/most of their time away from home, unless they represent one of a relative handful of districts and states that are within easy driving distance of the Capitol (that would be Maryland, northern Virginia, and the District of Columbia, which has a non-voting delegate).

      Personally, I think congressional staffs should be smaller, that members shouldn't be allowed to fly home on weekends, and that Congress should be in session 5 days a week, 6 months a year (January 3 through July 3), but I don't think they should be required to pay for the computer equipment they use on the job, any more than we working stiffs are.

      I should note that there is a good reason why the U.S. Constitution provides for the payment of salaries to the President and members of Congress. Until the 19th Century, members of the British Parliament (other than ministers) were unpaid and frequently made ends meet by taking bribes.

      Reply to Vanax:

      I argue no such thing. I think elected officials should be paid a sufficient amount to allow them to support themselves and their families without having to supplement their incomes through other means (assuming full time work). If you require them to work for free, then you restrict who can serve to those who are either independently wealthy, have patrons willing to pay their way, or are unscrupulous enough to sell their influence for what they can get.
      John L. Ries
      • Your argument makes the case for "Single Payer" in the US.

        Your argument makes the case for "Single Payer" in the US; Without free medical care, citizens are forced to steal stuff to pay for critical, perhaps life-saving, medical care.
        vanax
  • this is ridiculous

    ...as ridiculous as the salary of our representatives and their benefits generally.
    Just compare to CEOs salaries (even those owned by govt)
    People want to save a few bucks on their elected officials, and then lose *thousands* on corrupted deals (fighter jets contracts or whatever... )

    There is no way a minister or president is going to fight for the people against the lobbies with their present salary. They can't even afford a decent lawyer.
    pweltz
  • Should our taxes pay for their health insurance?

    I agree that our taxes should not pay for their health insurance, their lavish lifestyles, and any cars they use which are paid by taxpayers.
    vanax