Local authority to use app across the board in bid to save money, decrease environmental impact and improve members’ IT skills
Councillors at the City of Wolverhampton Council have approved a plan to completely replace paper materials with a digital alternative for all meetings.
In a bid to save money and reduce its environmental footprint, in 2014 the local authority first adopted the Modern.Gov app. The software, developed by Civica, is designed to enable paperless meetings.
But a report from the council’s governance committee reveals that 36 councillors – out of a total of 60 – still request paper copies of meeting documents, with “additional copies supplied to political assistants and councillor support”.
The committee has now approved a plan to pilot paperless meetings and, subject to its success, “extend this approach to all council and committee meetings on a phased basis”.
“Across a wide number of service areas, the council is increasingly encouraging its residents to access services electronically,” the committee report said. “Moving to paperless meetings provides councillors with an opportunity to lead by example in this regard and demonstrate that they too are prepared to embrace new forms of technology to deliver savings, embrace more efficient working practices and reduce the council’s carbon footprint.”
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The committee believes that, based on figures for the 2018/19 year, eliminating the need to print out and post papers cloud reduce costs by an annual total of as much as £10,000.
“An additional by-product of a move to paperless meetings is likely to be the upskilling of some councillors’ IT skills,” it said. “Going paperless provides an incentive to embrace new technologies, and at a time when most councils are adopting a ‘Digital First’ approach for their communities, it can only help having councillors who are more skilled and have an understanding of technology and how it can transform service delivery.”
Using the Modern.Gov app could also boost security levels, the governance report found, as the technology allows Wolverhampton’s democratic services team to “disseminate private or restricted (exempt information) papers securely to councillors”.
“This has the benefit of ensuring that only the people who should see the papers have access to them,” it said. “Through the Modern.Gov app, councillors are able to access meeting papers from any place, at any time to suit their personal commitments. Most tablet devices are small, portable, convenient and easy to use once councillors become familiar with them; by contrast some agenda packs can be several hundred pages long and particularly cumbersome.”
The app is also able to store up to six months’ worth of documents “which can be accessed and referred to at any time – including during meetings – improving access to information”, the committee said.
It added: “At the current time, councillors only receive a hard-copy agenda for the committees on which they sit; however, the app can be configured to provide councillors with access to any council meeting papers they wish to receive.”