Public sector in the north urged to open up to local tech

Local authorities in the north of England have been told to share their procurement data in a bid to improve collaboration with innovative tech companies in the face of the drive to increase digitisation.

A report from TechNorth – the branch of Tech City UK tasked with accelerating the north’s digital economy – the RSA and the Impact Hub, published on 23 May, says that tech companies have a big role to play in helping the region cope with the pressures of digitisation.

The aim of the report is to create what it describes as a digital powerhouse, citing figures from the 2016 Tech Nation report that show the north’s tech companies produce £9.9bn in GVA, which is around 5.2 per cent of the north’s total economic output.

It makes a series of recommendations to achieve this aim, such as the creation of a single contract portal collating private and public sector contracts, tech taster vouchers to allow businesses to get an idea of how tech could help them and a review of what works to support northern digital businesses.

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Many of the proposals focus on links between the public sector and the tech companies of the region, in particular urging the public sector to take steps that will help companies better understand their procurement practices. The report says that many of the government’s changes to procurement procedures have not succeeded in reducing their complexity enough to attract smaller businesses. For instance, it notes that some contracts still require firms to submit three years’ worth of audited accounts, while others ask small companies to work with bigger ones which is often unappealing for start-ups who fear the loss of intelligence or staff.

To address this, the report suggests setting up events with tech companies to explain local needs and strengths. In addition, it urges local authorities to open up data relating to past procurement, such as size and duration of contracts, and key performance indicators, and calls for an increased use of open source software to encourage collaborative innovation.

However, the report also says there is little appetite for innovation within the public sector, and says that public sector commissioners should consider using problem-based procurement that does not define solutions from the outset. It says that tenders should have input from experts who understand the area and be written with the guidance of tech companies.

In ten years, the report asserts, the north could be a digital powerhouse where tech businesses have been “woven into the fabric of public service delivery”. Although it acknowledges that this is heavily reliant on government decisions on public sector spending patterns and infrastructure investment, it says: “This is not a fantasy scenario.”

A statement on the TechNorth website says that there will be a series of ‘digital powerhouse’ reports to follow up on these ideas.


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