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New mayors encouraged to embrace digital devolution

The six mayors of the newly established combined authority areas have been told to adopt a ‘Digital First Mind-set’ when they take office after elections take place on 4 May.

At the launch of techUK – the UK’s IT industry association – publication Digital Devolution: A Guide for Mayors, the elected mayors have been called on to embrace digital devolution in their first 100 days in office to tackle a number of key issues that will face the regions in the next few years.

These include demographic change, traffic congestion and housing, as well as increasing employment opportunities and generating local economic wealth.

But these challenges cannot be faced alone, techUK say, and digital devolution presents an opportunity for the mayors to do things differently.

The guide recommends a number of key measures for the mayors, including putting in place correct digital leadership and committing to making the city-regions into ‘Data Enriched Cities’.  This would be made up by an innovation unit, data store and digital taskforce.

Georgina Maratheftis, programme manager for local government at techUK, said: “Digital devolution presents one of the biggest opportunities to do things differently, break down the traditional barriers to service delivery to drive improved outcomes for all.

“The mayors, with their direct and convening powers, must use their new and unique position to accelerate the pace of transformation, working closely with public sector, the community and industry to deliver better outcomes for all citizens by creating truly joined-up services and places where citizens want to live and thrive.”

And her colleague, Aimee Betts-Charalambous, programme manager for IoT & SmarterUK at techUK, said that with a trend towards urbanisation, cities of the future needed to work in a very different way to how they currently operate.

“Leaders will need to rethink not just essential services but also determine a strategy for economic growth and improved quality of life,” she said. “All within the context of budget cuts, resource scarcity and rising expectations.

"This is one of the most consequential periods for city governance and will define the success of our regions in the future. In adopting a digital mind set the new mayors will have an opportunity to enhance local productivity unlocking their share of £208bn in gains over the next decade.”

Richard Elliott, head of policy, partnerships and research at Manchester City Council, recently explained how the area’s innovative ‘citizen-centred’ project aims to understand and tackle what matters to the city and its citizens.

And Professor Simon Joss, co-director of the International Eco-Cities Initiative at the University of Westminster, told PSE why smart cities are at a crossroads between technological innovation and local engagement.

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