Northern councils need distinct digital service, says ResPublica

Written by Rebecca Hill on 11 July 2016 in News

The think tank ResPublica has called for the creation of a northern digital service to provide a shared platform for automating council services across the region.

ResPublica are pushing to keep the Northern Powerhouse on the government's agenda - Photo credit: PA

In its Manifesto for the North - which calls for northern city and regional leaders to form a Council of the North "to counter London-centric policymaking” - the think tank sets out a number of changes that will make the Northern Powerhouse a reality.

This includes a northern digital service for all councils and cities to cut the costs associated with every council designing a separate system and make data more freely accessible, while ensuring their autonomy over their own services.

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In addition, the think tank says there should be a deputy mayor for innovation on every city-region cabinet to work with innovators in the public, private and third sectors and encourage innovation by sharing best practice.

Speaking at a ResPublica conference in Manchester to coincide with launch of the manifesto, chancellor George Osborne and communities secretary Greg Clark tried to allay concerns that the result of the EU referendum might lead to a loss of impetus in the government’s aim to boost the north’s economy.

“If anything, the referendum result is even more of an instruction to deliver the Northern Powerhouse and make it a reality,” Osborne said.

Meanwhile, Clark said that the referendum had shown that people think the EU is too remote, unaccountable and bureaucratic - he said that he “sensed that some of those charges were levelled at the way the country is run too”.

“So among the answers to the challenge of the referendum result has to be a much bigger role for local leadership in our national life,” he said. “That’s why devolution needs to go deeper.”

Clark also hit back at critics who say the Northern Powerhouse agenda is just a slogan, telling the conference that it was “no longer a phrase just used to label government policy – it’s an identity you’ve made your own and, in fact, always was your own”.

In his speech, Clark set out four aspects that are necessary for successful devolution across the country: powerful combined authorities, the appointment of elected mayors, fiscal devolution and data devolution.

On the latter point, he said that, “in an over-centralised country, information is sucked upwards, away from the frontline” with data rarely being joined up and often becoming so aggregated that the finer details were lost.

“But when communities take control of service delivery and investment for growth, then data can be joined-up locally – providing the intelligence that enables effective local decision making,” Clark said. “At the leading edge, data devolution is about smart communities – the use of advanced technology to gather and process information in real time.”

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