House of Commons Commission written question – answered on 18th March 2015.

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Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

To ask the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross representing the House of Commons Commission, what comparative assessment the Commission has made of the costs of offering iPads and equivalent Android devices free of charge to all hon. Members.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

To ask the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross representing the House of Commons Commission, what assessment the Commission made of the functionality and price of other devices and platforms before deciding to offer free iPads to all hon. Members.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Chair, Finance and Services Committee

In 2013 the House of Commons Commission agreed to a recommendation in the Administration Committee’s report, First weeks at Westminster: induction arrangements for new MPs in 2015, that:

“…a tablet and a laptop should be the first pieces of equipment offered to all Members after the 2015 election. The tablet should be in addition to the current allowance and should come with a SIM card. This provision of a tablet would replace any tablets available as part of the current select committee pilot. The laptop would come from the IT equipment allowance for Members provided by PICT.”

The gross cost was estimated to be around £200,000 per annum (including the cost of SIM cards) averaged over the life of the parliament but is linked to a programme to reduce hard copy printing in favour of online publication that is already delivering savings in excess of £3 million per year. These savings are expected to grow further in the new parliament.

An independent assessment was completed by Parliamentary ICT (PICT) in January 2015, covering comparative tablet costs, the costs associated with the re-working of existing services and infrastructure (where required), and any costs for training Members, Members’ staff and ICT support teams.

Having been in use across Parliament since 2012, iPads are integrated with current business processes (eg committee paper circulation) and infrastructure (eg mobile device management). A move away from the Apple operating system (iOS) at this time would incur costs to change these processes.

Given the established nature of iOS in the Houses’ IT service offering, access to parliamentary digital services on iPads is mature, offering greater access than on other mobile devices. Members are able to access the intranet and intranet hosted services via their iPads, they are able to access and annotate committee papers and can download a number of Office apps to access any content held within Office 365. In addition, PICT are able to remotely manage their security in the case of loss. While all of these services could be provided on other devices and operating systems, currently this would incur further costs in order to deliver them.

There would be a significant change to move existing Members to a different tablet operating system. There are at present 209 iPads supplied centrally to Members; PICT are experienced at supporting these. Any departure from iOS would require re-training for the current Members using iOS and new training to be developed for the remaining 441 Members and all relevant PICT support staff.

The assessment of the current marketplace revealed a wide range of prices, from entry level tablets starting at under £100, through to high-end tablets at approximately £600. Across this range, specifications and capabilities vary a great deal. Our requirements are for a secure, SIM-enabled tablet with a good life expectancy and capable of supporting future upgrades. The Apple iPad Air 2 meets these requirements and is competitively priced when compared with similar models.

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