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Report plays up digital transformation devolution potential

Published 25 April 2017

Commitments to establish combined authorities across UK with greater powers should encourage a new approach on technology leadership and data, techUK argues


With Greater Manchester set to vote on May 4 for its first ever elected mayor to represent 10 boroughs making up the area, the technology industry sees similar UK devolution pushes as a chance to prioritise improved digital leadership and data innovation.

Industry association techUK has unveiled a Digital Devolution Guide for mayors focused on key considerations in their first 100 days in office around implementing digital infrastructure and policy to meet service delivery challenges such as integrated care, housing and traffic.

Among its key conclusions, the report backs implementing strong digital leadership, such as in creating a Chief Digital and Innovation Champion (CDIC) role to report directly to mayors and senior officers in the combined authorities.  The champion should lead an Innovation Unit working across the authority to enter new partnerships looking at supporting initiatives and digital transformation programmes.

“By putting in place an empowered champion that cuts across all services and functions, the mayor sends a clear signal of commitment that digital and collaborative working are the new norm, declaring the city region open to innovation,” said the findings. “The CDIC will also have a pivotal role in identifying new opportunities for revenue generation that will help finance future initiatives.”

Others key considerations include revising the role of data and how it can be shared and used by public and private bodies to inform decision making and services across combined authorities.  The report backs auditing local data assets for boroughs and the wider city area to create a single store of information and open data.

“Opening up data also affords local business and start-ups the opportunity to interpret the problem and become suppliers of innovative local solutions. It is also a great way to add value to the city-region, connecting the community and allowing citizens to use data to crowdsource and solve their own issues,” said the report. 

Smart city initiatives, such as those undertaken by Peterborough City Council, were provided as an example of the opportunities for innovative collaborations with the public sector that can be supported via data focuses.

As part of its report, techUK also played up the need to collaborate in communities to better tackle digital exclusion, as well as forming a ‘Digital Skills Taskforce’ to establish a pipeline to ensure areas and employers have the required expertise for transformation projects.

Georgina Maratheftis, the programme manager for local government at techUK, said that devolution could be a major chance to rethink public service delivery at a time of increased cost pressures.

“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,” said Maratheftis.

“We are looking forward to working with the mayors to redefine what a 21st century city region can be.”

The formation of combined authorities with directly elected mayors that can oversee a larger number of powers from central government was played up as a key focus of former Chancellor George Osborne under initiatives such as his ‘Northern Powerhouse’ agenda.

With Philip Hammond replacing Osborne following last year’s post-EU referendum change in government, key commitments in the recent Spring Budget included potentially giving further powers to the Greater London Authority and councils in the capital.  

The government said in the Budget that it was also in the process of holding talks with Greater Manchester authorities on future transport funding to redesign public services.

The Budget also pointed to several additional agreements under discussion, such as city deals for Edinburgh and Swansea with regard to expanded devolved powers.

“The government has also opened negotiations for a city deal for Stirling and looks forward to considering proposals as they are brought forward for a Tay Cities Deal and a North Wales Growth Deal,” said the document.

In September last year, Theo Blackwell, Cabinet member for Finance, Technology and Growth at Camden Council, called for more meaningful discussions about digital transformation when considering devolved powers for local or regional government.

Blackwell warned of a possible “missed opportunity” to redesign services through the take up of new devolved powers, despite welcoming existing deals mentioning a need for data sharing - viewed as a crucial component of joined-up working.

Related articles:

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Camden’s Theo Blackwell wants devolution to be ‘smart’ and ‘digital’

Cautious welcome for Budget data and devolution pledges

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