Tuesday, 18 March 2014

More Questions on the £600 Claimable IT Expenses

Following up my posting on the subject of the claimable IT expenses of £600 for States Members, Jeremy Macon commented on Facebook (in the public domain):
"This budget was already going to States Members for IT provision so it's not entirely correct to say that States Members have given themselves anything extra, it's just the way it's claimed is now different. This budget was to cover Internet, hardware and other it provision, whilst yes States members get an expenses allowance this element was held by the IT department now it's been transferred to the States Assembly budget. So the total spend is the same."
"What happened was: - As the JT billing system was being changed the mechanism that States Members could use to claim for basic Internet from JT was no longer available. So there was a lot of back and forth between PCC and the IT department. But we were told it was going to happen. This money come out if the IT departments budget to go to JT to pay for Members Basic Internet. Now States Members get billed like everyone else and part of this sum covers that. £17.99 x 12= £215.88"
"The other section is to cover hardware and programmes and things like that. Again what happened here was whilst States Members could claim a Laptop from the IT department, to assist with their work, and periodically get it up graded. That's what the rest of this budget was for. However centrally the IT department couldn't support all the different types of technology that States Members preferred or were asking for. Plus lugging an old out of date laptop is something that States member weren't doing. So IT suggested that it would be better for them and States members to get members to buy there own devices and be responsible for them should they break. Whilst IT made them compatible with the States E-mail system. So the remainder of the budget is for that. We did ask if there could be a buy and reimburse provision for members but the administration for such a scheme would be too cumbersome apparently."
"Sadly, given the timing of these events the Renumeration review board had all ready sat and made their recommendations. So as uncomfortable as my committee was in taking the decision to allow all States Members to claim this money in a different way, we decided that for this year whilst we were in transition form the old system to a new one it was better to allowing members to decide how to best use the funds. "
"So this matter will be referred to the Renumeration review board when they next meet. But to repeat this was money already allocated to States Members for IT provision and it has not increased overall cost to the taxpayer."
These details, of course, are missing from the Minutes of PPC, or the Ministerial decision. That's not exactly "upfront" about what is happening. It is clear that part of it - the basic broadband - is cost neutral. The new billing scheme meant this had to be brought in this year.
It is not nearly so clear that the other part of the allowance will be, or why it had to be brought in rather than referred to the States Remuneration body for next year. Why the haste? Why entwine the two in a rather neat round sum? Is it not remarkable that the element of cost for a laptop and upgrades came to exactly £384.22, giving a total of £600? How amazing that cost neutrality should come to such a round figure!
James  commented that:
"It seems as though the equipment is going to the office holder and not the office. By making this decision the tax payer is spending more money on equipment as a new allowance is going to have to be in place for each new member. Whilst I understand that technology advances, surely it would still be more cost effective for the IT Department to have bought the equipment in bulk, and if the States Members were not happy with the equipment, then they could use their salary to supplement their wants.  The mindset seems to be focused on what type of technology members want. I think this is wrong, and it should be focused on technology which allows them to do their job whilst at the same time technology which is cost effective."
What is more, by bringing it forward before elections, it means that it is open to States members who may not be standing, or may not be re-elected, to walk away from the States with equipment that they own paid for by the States. It's a nice leaving present. It would have been better to bring it in when the new intake of States members came into the House.
I am sure that before the elections are upon us, they will all have claimed their allowance - re-standing or not. You can bet that £600 will be £700 next year and so on. While at present the Member has to take responsibility for damage or malfunction, this may change.  Once an allowance is established for something like this, it becomes interpreted as an 'essential'.
Moreover, there does not seem to be too much detail on whether the allowance is claimable against receipt of purchase or just a lump sum. If members already have purchased and used their own devices for a few years, can they claim back on that? Or is it a blanket allowance?
As James notes:  "there is a strong likelihood that members who lose their seats, or who decide not to stand for re-election, will have this technology when they leave office. Is there any provision to reclaim this as property of the Office of Deputy/Connétable/Senator, and not the office holder?"
The laptops would have been returned, cleaned, and given to new States members. It is not clear what policy will operate with these devices owned by the States member. There do not seem to have been any protocols mentioned anywhere in the Minutes or the Ministerial Decision.
If these gadgets are bought to assist Members in their States work, there should have been a security protocol imposed too. Their internet connection at least via a proxy server and for added security,  a cloud account for storing their data.
I suspect that what may have been happening is that a number of States members, like Jeremy, preferred the convenience of a small hand-held device, and didn't take up the availability of the States laptop. It would be interesting to know how many did, and how much of the IT budget was in fact underused because of that. Now, of course, all of it will be used.

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