On 6 November at the Custard Factory the West Midlands Combined Authority hosted the Urban Tech Summit, bringing together tech leaders from across industry and public sector to learn how the West Midlands can lead the UK’s cities and regions in transforming services using new technologies. Keynoting at the event was Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Department for Communities and Local Government and Andy Street, West Midlands Mayor. There were also two panels looking at role of startups on solving urban challenges and data innovation in local government services.
“But embracing digital is no longer optional"
Kicking off the day was Sajid Javid setting out the digital challenge facing local authorities and the role central government can help in driving forward innovation and transformation at the local level.
Javid spoke of how technology is changing the way we live and work and most importantly delivering services for citizens. Examples of best practice from Essex, Camden, Manchester and the West Midlands were highlighted but he very much emphasised that more can be done in unlocking the opportunities technology offers in delivering more efficient user-friendly local public services.
The Secretary of State acknowledge the fragmented nature of local government, but outlined more could be done on standards. While there may be over 350 councils they are delivering the same services but when it comes to digital, councils will often work towards their own standards and do their own thing. He highlighted planning application as an example of where standards could be beneficial to help avoid duplication of service and to the user. This is a very important point and a key area of focus for techUK’s Local Public Services Committee who in 2018 will be publishing a paper looking at the environment in which local government organisations and departments within organisations can be improved to foster increased technology innovation.
Another area he highlighted which techUK have championed and called for in the Digital Devolution: A Guide for Mayors is the important role of leadership in driving forward transformation. Digital belongs in the boardroom and should be embraced across the organization the Secretary of State stressed. As such, he has also appointed Paul Maltby as the department’s Chief Digital Officer to ensure councils make the most of technology. A key ask from the Secretary of State to the tech industry was that it must challenge the way it usually works but he is also called for more industry to work with local government. It is important for industry to speak the language of local government, and focus on outcomes and the residents.
The clear and welcome message from the Secretary of State was "embracing digital is no longer optional," we are able to transform public sector outcomes through the better use of tech and data. The speech was a step in the right direction and encouraging to hear central government’s backing for council transformation. A welcome announcement was DCLG working with councils and the Government Digital Service to create a new vision and a call to arms on local government digital, more details to be announced next spring. While transformation should be owned at the local level central government has an important role to play in co-ordinating and sharing what good can look like. The Secretary of State offered his support and backing to local leaders and to be bold when it comes to digital. A reassuring speech but the devil is now in the detail. We look forward to working with DCLG, local government and industry on creating the environment that enables successful transformation.
West Midlands Seeks Start-Ups to Help Solve Four Public-Service Challenges
The Summit was also an opportunity for the Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street to share his digital vision whilst launching the regions Urban Challenge. Early on in his campaign Andy launched a dedicated digital manifesto and it was great to hear first-hand what has been achieved and the next steps in delivering his pledges from skills to driving innovation to enable the West Midlands to be a globally competitive tech hub. The Mayor announced the Digital Skills Institute and shortly there will be an Office of Data Analytics in West Midlands.
In partnership with Public, which runs an incubator programme for government technology firms, the Mayor launched the Urban Challenge. It is an open call competition for technology startups to develop new ideas to make the West Midlands a better place to live and work by pitching directly to the Mayor and the chance to work directly with officials from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).
The WMCA has set out the following four challenges where start-ups can get involved.
1) Wellbeing – What innovative ways are there to improve current public outcomes in and out of hospitals?
2) Homelessness – What new technology solutions could we adopt to identify and prevent households that are at risk of becoming homeless?
3) Youth Unemployment – How can we use innovative technology to support young people and provide them with a route nap back into employment?
4) Digital Citizenship – How might new technologies help local government become more responsive to and interactive with citizens?
Each challenge winner will receive £10,000 plus a three month pilot with West Midlands.
Applications close January 2018, for more details and how to apply click here.