Exclusive: Taxpayers to pick up bill after fiasco of kiosks

TAXPAYERS have been left with a bill for more than £600,000 for a failed network of electronic information kiosks which has been scrapped following a series of problems.

Doncaster Council has been left facing accusations of wasting public money over the project to install the 38 kiosks, in public buildings or in the street.

It was announced in 2005 but was dogged by a series of problems including technical issues which meant the authority had to pay BT 40,000 to keep some of the terminals connected.

Others kiosks were vandalised, there was little interest from the public with the council now conceding the idea of providing instant access to council services has been overtaken by technology, leaving them redundant.

Councillors and pressure groups said money should never have been spent on the "harebrained" IT project when essential services were suffering.

Coun Martin Williams, a member of Thorne Town Council and borough councillor said the kiosks were "a daft, dreadful idea" which had never been used in his area.

He added: "There was never any consultation, they just appeared in the street like Doctor Who's Tardis. It was a harebrained exercise to make officers look good in my view.

"They were a waste of money, some of which could have been used on other council services. The one in Thorne was vandalised and repaired several times, but I never saw anybody use it. Who would want to stand there in the street looking at the council website?"

Doncaster Council released details of the kiosk costs under the Freedom of Information Act and said part of the bill for the boxes had been met by a Government grant.

Figures on usage were not available but it is understood that very few kiosks were regularly used, while annual maintenance contracts for the boxes cost the council taxpayer almost 90,000. Officers admitted that some of the kiosks were not connected to the council's computer network, meaning that BT was paid 40,800 for connecting them through phone lines.

Senior officers announced they were reviewing the 38 machines last summer, and closed those in outdoor locations because of repeated vandalism.

At that time the council said some kiosks would remain open, but it has now confirmed that every one of the boxes has been removed because of "low usage and technical issues".

Mayor of Doncaster Peter Davies said: "Due to rapid advancements in technology all the information available can now be viewed via the internet and mobile phones, which 90 per cent of the UK population own. This left the kiosks redundant.

"As in many other areas, it is true that a large amount of central government money has been wasted on the kiosks, so in response to the changing ways people access council services we have decided to cut our losses rather than continue wasting public money. "

Doncaster Council has already been heavily criticised by Government watchdog the Audit Commission for mismanagement which led to tragedies including the deaths of seven children.

A snap inspection of the running of the council was carried out earlier this year, and a devastating report described it as the worst authority ever seen by Commission staff.

Andrew Allison, Yorkshire spokesman for the TaxPayers' Alliance, said it was "scandalous" that cash had been spent on the kiosks when front-line services were starved of money.

He also criticised the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA), a Government quango which encouraged local authorities in England to engage in so-called e-Government. No comment was available from the IDeA.