UK Public Sector: The SME Secret to Digital Success

Public Sector innovation and digital transformation in local government is taking hold, picking up pace and starting to have real impact. The GovTech market is expanding and we are seeing new innovations and approaches every day from innovative localgov teams and pioneering startups, underpinned by GDS standards, service design methods and localgov best practice.

Historically, local government has admirably sought to deliver its local aim to see citizens’ lives changed significantly for the better.

But with some wider thinking, there are even greater opportunities, and more significant and life-changing benefits to be harnessed. We need to look outwards, not inwards. Now is the time for the whole of the UK Public Sector to consider and embrace two much wider and more ambitious aims:

1. For local authorities and other stakeholders (including SMEs) to work together, rather than independently, to find solutions that benefit everyone.

2. For diverse, multi-sector teams to innovate together, for the benefit and unity of the union, establishing the UK as the world leader in Public Sector innovation.

OK, so some of this is already happening, and there are many good examples at a local level, but there needs to be more willingness from the Public Sector to look for solutions beyond the walls of their own teams and ICT suppliers - there are a wealth of Public Sector innovations being developed nationally, but few ways for these organisations to identify the localgov change-makers and innovators with whom they should engage. So they get nowhere - and citizens miss out.

For locally-delivered services, such as waste management, council tax collection, parking, blue badges, etc. this is often less of an issue. However, much of future progress is in cross-border services, interoperability & data sharing, Open Data, APIs and digital standards - and all these need an outward perspective and a multi-sector solution. We need to deliver on the two aims above to make a subsequent difference to citizens. Only then will the UK truly be able to join up services, data and consistent delivery across borders.

The solution

To change the status quo and realise the UK as the global leader in Public Sector innovation, we must communicate more, fund innovatively, and make ourselves more available as follows:

1. Market information days – SMEs can’t engage 152 ‘gatewayed’ organisations when they are trying to find solutions. It’s up to localgov to provide innovators with opportunities to present solutions to the Public Sector en masse. Examples of this include London Ventures and the techUK Innovation Den, but there needs to be more events, particularly outside of London.

2. Localgov crowdfunding of solutions - Despite localgov austerity, there is transformation money, but much of this is being spent locally to address challenges 152 times over. Like the issue of GDPR faced by every local authority, localgov must embrace new cost-effective models to fund integrated national solutions to shared local problems.

3. Better seed funding for GovTech collaboration and innovation - There is a significant need for larger sums to deliver national solutions to local problems, e.g. my personal favourite, childcare information. These challenges are best solved by a multi-sector team, not by localgov (or indeed a tech company) in isolation.

So who is going to take up the challenge in their own capacity and role? Even beyond Brexit, the UK can be the world leader in GovTech innovation. But only if we change old habits, take a risk and go out of our way to discover the possibilities not quite in front of us.

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