Creating a digital london

Source: PSE Dec/Jan 2019

Hackney mayor and London Councils’ digital champion, Philip Glanville, takes an in-depth look at some of the projects benefitting from a dedicated funding pot to improve digital infrastructure across the capital’s boroughs.

Over the past year, the capital’s 32 boroughs, the City of London Corporation, and the mayor of London piloted 100% business rates retention. Government was allowed to keep the growth created by the success of businesses in 2018-19 and to collectively reinvest some of this extra funding to drive future sustainable economic growth across the capital.

Investing in digital infrastructure and technology that can help support a modern economy and the future transformation of services is a key part of achieving this. Together, our boroughs and the City of London Corporation are investing £47m of the retained growth in eight projects, generating a further £200m in match funding to maximise the benefit for our residents and businesses.

The capital currently makes a net fiscal contribution to the UK economy of £32.5bn, but we wanted to target our new investment to address some of the challenges holding London back from building on its existing economic activity and productivity levels.

There is a common misconception that the streets of London are paved with gold, but the reality is that a decade of austerity has made an indelible mark on the city. Boroughs have experienced a 63% funding reduction between 2010 and 2020, equivalent to £4bn being taken out of local services. At the same time, the number of people in the capital using our services has increased by almost one million.

The challenges Londoners themselves face are also many and varied: for example, eight of the 20 most deprived local authorities in the country are here; housing to rent or buy is unaffordable for the majority of people; significant areas of the capital do not have access to high-speed internet connections; and we have skills shortages in key sectors such as STEM, tech, health, and construction.

The eight projects, funded by London’s Strategic Investment Pot (SIP), demonstrates London government working together within this challenging environment to deliver a range of outcomes that tackle these issues and have potentially city-wide benefits. These include installing fibre-optic broadband connections in strategic locations; investing in digital-enabled workspaces; establishing an Internet of Things platform to gather data relevant to councils; and creating an open-data standard for planning applications.

These SIP-funded schemes span a wide geographical area and have different objectives, but they all offer forward-thinking solutions to some of London’s most complex issues, and illustrate how councils can take advantage of fiscal devolution and make a collective investment into the future of our capital.

After a decade of reduced funding that has hit local government hard, the 100% business rates retention pilot is an important opportunity to show that local leaders have the knowledge to invest strategically on behalf of their communities, and have the strong relationships to work together across borough boundaries. The positive start we’ve made via our SIP investments has strengthened London government’s ambition for further fiscal devolution in the capital.

In focus: three of the funded programmes

  1. Hackney Council: £250,000 to the Open Data Standard for planning

People and organisations are generating more data than ever before, making it increasingly important that we update how we catalogue and store information. Local authorities taking a different approach to data has the potential to build trust, speed up processes and foster innovation, while simultaneously freeing up resources and creating savings. With those benefits in mind, Hackney is leading a project to work collaboratively with other councils and develop an open-data standard for planning applications.

Having a consistent format for planning data across boroughs will open up the systems market so that councils can provide applicants and residents with a better experience of the planning process, thus increasing transparency and encouraging greater participation. It will also make it easier for interested parties such as citizens and developers to use planning data that authorities hold in ways that no-one has ever thought of before.

  1. Local London: £7.7m for investment in fibre-optic broadband

The London Borough of Bexley was the lead council for a bid to the SIP fund on behalf of the Local London Partnership, which is made up of eight boroughs: Barking & Dagenham, Bexley, Enfield, Greenwich, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Waltham Forest, and Haringey. The partnership worked together to develop the bid, which aimed to enhance employment and economic growth in key areas through ensuring the availability of world-class digital infrastructure.

Having been successfully awarded £7.7m, the partnership will now begin the process of procurement to enhance public-sector connectivity. By making fibre more readily available across the area, it is hoped that it will stimulate additional private investment by telecommunications suppliers in new digital infrastructure and full-fibre technology, enabling more businesses and residents to be able to access Gigabit connectivity. It is also envisaged that the funding will enable a programme of business support and development to assist SMEs to make the best business use of fast-fibre connections and skills training.

  1. West London Alliance: £11.13m to skills and productivity and digital investment

More than £11m has been awarded through the SIP process to the West London Alliance partnership of seven councils to invest in projects that support growth, help local businesses, and boost employment prospects for residents. The award is split into two broad areas: £7.7m to invest in connecting strategically important locations and “not-spot” areas with fast fibre, and £3.4m towards a range of employment and training programmes aimed at equipping individuals from all backgrounds with the skills they need to succeed and to progress in work.

The eight projects that have been awarded funding are:

  • £11.13m to skills and productivity and digital investment in West London
  • £7.7m to Local London for investment in fibre-optic broadband
  • £4m to the South London multipurpose Internet of Things platform
  • £250,000 to the Open Data Standard for planning
  • £8m to the South London innovation corridor
  • £5.75m to Productive Valley
  • £3m to the Euston Recruitment Hub
  • £7m to South Dock Bridge


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