Birmingham says: ‘Bye bye paper, hello tablets’
Birmingham City Council recently held its first electronic planning committee after ditching paper and using tablet computers.
Some of you may have read the city council started issuing tablet computers for its planning committee members as part of a pilot scheme in late November.
The six-month trial began at its 22nd November meeting, initially using the tablet devices in parallel with paper copies of agendas.
The committee has now been fully paperless since January. In addition to issuing the devices the council has streamlined its back offline office to provide improved information flows behind the scene.
The first paperless planning committee meeting took place at the end of January. The meeting went well and the committee is planning to follow the same process for subsequent meetings.
The team at Birmingham are also looking at how the format of the reports can be revised to take even more advantage of the electronic medium.
In future meetings, it’s planned to use more interactive elements in the committee such as links to online plans and possibly using Google Street View to aid the decision-making process.
Business case and savings
Birmingham’s business case estimates the 21 tablets (15 for committee members and six for planning officers) will be paid for inside three years, thanks to the savings their use will generate.
The initial cost of rolling out the tablets for the planning committee is £11,781 with support costs of £5,250 in future years. Annual savings are projected at £10,574. Over the five-year business case, the project would break even in year three, and subsequent net savings of £5,324 per year would then be achieved.
Councillor Mike Sharpe, chairman of the planning committee, said: “It would be very easy for things to stand still because they have always been done a certain way.
“However, the planning committee is one of the main stages for council business, has a busy agenda and the printing costs of all the paperwork mean it is no longer sensible or sustainable to avoid the benefits that technology offer.”
The council said the tablets will make it easier to view and annotate agendas and will provide a platform for more interactive reports in the future.
“It will also make our work more agile and efficient and is a good example of how modernisation and business transformation can be adopted to ensure that we are a smart city using new technologies.”
The scheme is a pilot and will be reviewed in due course to consider whether it has been successful and could potentially be rolled out to other areas of the council.
I’d love to hear from other local authorities using mobile technology to modernise their planning service or indeed how applicants and planners are using tablets or smart phones.
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