Richmond Council forked out more than £286,210 on phone bills in the past three years.

A Freedom of Information request by the Richmond and Twickenham Times revealed 945 staff at Richmond Council had a council=issued a Nokia, HTC or Samsung phone issued to them.

The bill for all the handsets totalled £97,668 in 2011-12, a decrease from £104,459 forked out by taxpayers in 2010/11, but a rise from the £84,083 bill in 2009/10.

Councillor Geoffrey Samuel defended the amount spent.

He said: “Our staff who are out and about are encouraged to report what they see. For example, our traffic wardens are encouraged to be the eyes and ears of the council.

“They are all encouraged to use their phones a lot. It speeds up problems being reported and things getting done.

“Every penny is well spent. I think it’s very good value for money.”

Richmond Council said staff are provided with phones based on individual need and include employees who work in the community, work alone or require access to emails on the move and out of hours.

The council said phones were for business use but handsets could be used for personal calls, which it said were monitored through individual invoices and are repaid.

Across the country, shocking phone bills included £1.2m racked up by Manchester Council for 7,000 staff in the financial year ending in April 2010 and Plymouth City Council splashed out £578,712 on almost 2,000 phones.

Neighbouring Kingston Council ran up a bill of £108,000 in 2011.

Robert Oxley campaign manager of Taxpayers’ Alliance said: “Councils need to ensure that they keep their phone bills down – after all it is taxpayers who are picking up the tab.

“Richmond Council’s spending on phones has shot up in the last couple of years at time when they should be finding savings.

“Reducing this spending by ensuring phones are available to only those who really need them in an effort to bring the bill down must be a priority for council bosses.”

The council has also spent an additional £8,450 trialling tablet devices and a further £2,618 on iPads for niche applications in children’s services and environment.

The request also revealed that in the past three years, 12 phones had been reported lost, destroyed or stolen.

Leader of the opposition Councillor Stephen Knight said: “Good use of technology like mobile phones can enable people to work more efficiently.

“However, the council needs to be able to demonstrate that expenditure at these levels is really necessary to enable efficiency so that mobile phones don't simply become regarded as a widespread perk.”