by Mike Sims
THE leader of Dover District Council has been dialling up mobile phone bills of up to £136 a month, while officers spent £156,213 between 2008 and 2011.
The Express can reveal Tory Councillor Paul Watkins spent £4,608 on his BlackBerry handset in the years 2008-2011, paid out of the public purse.
At the peak of spending, Cllr Watkins rung up a bill of £1,630 in 2009, equivalent to £135.83 every month.
In 2008 he spent £956, in 2010 the cost came to £1,136 and 2011's total was £886. DDC did not supply figures for 2012.
The statistics were unearthed by the Express through a Freedom of Information request, though the authority failed to adhere to the statutory deadline of responding within 20 working days. It took a week longer.
The request also revealed council workers had racked up a bill of £156,213 on Nokia and BlackBerry mobile phones between 2008 and 2011.
In 2008, 310 DDC officers spent £58,488 of taxpayers' cash on phones – £188.67 each for the year. In 2011, 230 staff spent £30,767 in total, or £133.77 each.
Labour councillor Gordon Cowan said: "The figures for Cllr Watkins seems very very steep, my contract phone costs me about £35 a month and I never exceed all the minutes.
"Surely when you've got an office phone as well, the mobile costs should not be this high; it's an enormous amount."
A spokesman for DDC said Cllr Watkins' bills for the year varied due to usage and said the provision of a phone was "vital".
He added: "The contract for the councillor also includes charges for a wireless internet device to enable connection when there is no wi-fi signal.
"ICT and mobile technology are fundamental for the efficient operation of a council in this day and age, and many of our staff work remotely, provide out of hours and emergency cover and work additional hours away from the office, etc.
"The provision of a mobile phone or BlackBerry allows for the efficient and effective operation of our business, and we seek competitive and cost effective contracts, which is demonstrated by the overall reduction in the cost of the provision."