Unlocking smart capabilities for local authorities

Source: PSE Dec/Jan 17

Matthew Evans, executive director of techUK’s SmarterUK programme, discusses the need for the government to deliver a coherent digital strategy that demonstrates the importance of smart cities that local government and the technology industry can collaborate on to succeed.

Smart cities have the potential to create a better quality of life for citizens, and more inclusive and informed communities across the UK. Local government has a leading role to play in transforming cities and places for all citizens. With technology as an enabler, there is a huge opportunity for local government to redesign how to serve citizens’ rising demands. 

We are already seeing pockets of excellence across our cities – Essex, Milton Keynes, Manchester and Glasgow, to name just a few. However, now is the time to accelerate the pace of transformation. This can be achieved through a collaborative approach working with the technology industry to create more responsive and intelligent public services. 

The squeeze on cities  

In line with global trends, our cities are growing. London, for example, is growing by two tube trains every week. The population is also ageing; the median age of the UK population is over 40, up from 36 years in 1996. This places intense pressure on our services in cities. At the same time, local authorities have squeezed budgets and tough targets, such as reaching our domestic target to reduce emissions by 80% from 1990 levels. And cities also face their own unique challenges – air quality, a transient but demanding student population or inefficient housing stock. 

Why get smart? 

Digital technology can provide citizens with public services that are more responsive and intelligent. By implementing smart technology, services will become more joined-up and it will be easier to manage demand across public services and cities. For example, NHS figures have shown that using telehealth services for patients with heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or diabetes can reduce A&E attendances by 15% and emergency admissions by 20%. 

Also, automated vehicles, when combined with a smart city platform, have the potential to drastically reduce congestion. This will  improve air quality, lead to productivity increases and help ease congestion, which is set to cost the UK economy more than £300bn by 2030. 

The opportunities are endless if we get this right. Not only will it help regional economic growth, but if the UK can become the exemplar for smart cities, then there is a worldwide market as large as $408bn by 2020 waiting for us. 

Capability to drive transformation 

There is no denying that those local authorities who sit at the heart of the most successful smart cities projects have done so by going through a complex process. Local governments often have universal service obligations with intricate and multiple services to deliver. However, those that have made the investment have found the rewards to be worth it. For example, Exeter and Devon councils were feeling the strain of congested roads and unhappy commuters. Having reviewed the problem, the councils worked closely with technology partners in the development of an Engaged Smart Technology project where real-time data from sensors, eyewitnesses and behavioural information generates accurate congestion updates and immediately act to solve the problems.

In order for any smart city strategy to be a success it must have the capability and buy-in to drive the transformation. Those global cities that are most successful have buy-in from the top and are often accompanied by a chief digital officer. There must be focus on leadership roles, skills for the whole team and capacity, driven by government, to support local government digital transformation. This could take the form of a central body to co-ordinate skills training and support capability-building for local government as a smart community is developed.   

In it together 

Knowledge and information sharing is critical as local governments go on this journey. There should be a unified approach to building smart cities where government and the technology industry work with local government to create the blueprints for digital transformation that others (at home and abroad) can learn from. 

The time is right for smart city investment. Technology can enable local authorities to transform and collaborate, and the technology industry and public sector must work together to deliver a shared ambition. The government also needs to espouse a coherent digital strategy that demonstrates the importance of smart cities that local government and the technology industry can collaborate on to succeed. Working together, the UK will be able to improve quality of life for all citizens, and become a global exemplar for smart city development.



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