Council’s use of paper discussed

Views were mixed when councillors discussed the amount of paperless functions that should be carried out.

Members of Morpeth Town Council’s communications group produced a report about the issue and it was on the agenda for a meeting of the authority’s finance and general purposes committee.

Measures have been carried out in recent months, such as the decision to send an information bulletin to councillors electronically rather than in the post.

Coun Nic Best, who was one of the report’s authors, said it concluded that there were key council functions where paper could be minimised but there were no significant savings in terms of cost and officer time if it was eliminated completely from these processes.

In response, Coun Ken Brown said he believes it did not go far enough.

He added: “A cost benefit analysis should have been carried out on matters such as sending out documents electronically and the use of applications like Dropbox (a file hosting service).

“I think we can significantly reduce the amount of paper we use and it will be of great benefit to the council.

“I recognise the legal constraints when it comes to official documents for councillors, but we can take steps to promote using as little paper as possible. For example, if a councillor wants a sheet of paper printed out, they should have to pay for it.”

Coun Bob Robertson had a different view. He said: “Not everyone is comfortable with using computer equipment and software and personally, I prefer to make notes on paper.

“Offices will be paperless in two or three generations’ time, but at the moment the technology isn’t there for it to be cost and resource effective. Therefore, I support the current arrangements and the report’s recommendations.”

Coun Andrew Tebbutt said: “I agree we can’t go to a paperless office because there are times when you need paper, but the issues raised by Coun Brown need to be looked at and actions can be taken.

“For example, can councillors who are not members of a particular committee have the option of receiving the papers for meetings electronically as opposed to always receiving a hard copy at the moment?”

Coun Best said that doing a cost benefit analysis was not in the remit given to the members who produced the report.

At the end of the discussion, it was agreed that these councillors will seek input before drawing up terms of reference for looking at specific measures to reduce the council’s use of paper.