TAXPAYERS have paid £31,000 for a new room-booking system for Barnet Council.

Officers decided to replace the old diary to allow “more efficient” room booking by council staff at North London Business Park, in Oakleigh Road South, Whetstone; Barnet House, in High Road, Whetstone; and Burnt Oak library, in Watling Avenue, Edgware.

They said the two systems currently in place – an in-house intranet system and £1,505-per-year Lonsto diary system – were not user-friendly and cost-effective.

The new Zipporah system will cost £17,000 to install, £10,000 for three years of system support and £4,000 for internal software.

There may be additional costs for hardware, but these are yet to be determined.

Johnny Hubner, director of internet company Sapnagroup, voiced astonishment at the cost.

“There are different sorts of room-booking appliances you can have,” he said. “The easiest and cheapest is to buy an existing package, which you could probably pick up for a few hundred pounds.

“But if you have specific requirements, you could come to a company like ours and we would design it for you. This would cost about £2,000.

“Even with very special requirements, £31,000 is absolutely huge. I just can’t understand how they could possibly have got to that figure.”

The report authorising the purchase stated: “Efficient systems for managing room bookings contribute to the corporate priority of more choice, better value.

“The proposed system will facilitate more efficient room booking by council staff for internal meetings.

“Due to the sensitive nature of some of the council’s meetings they need to be held in confidential areas with a degree of privacy.

“Some rooms also need to be booked quickly and efficiently in the presence of external clients or there is an impact on frontline services.”

A council spokesman said he could not understand how the Sapnagroup quote could be so low.

He said: "The council compared systems which could be provided by four suppliers. They quoted costs varying from £23,000 to £35,000.

"Apart from prices, we looked at what else the suppliers were offering, including development, training, maintenance and support.

"We chose what we believe is the best deal for the council."