Industry body calls on mayors to appoint a chief digital and innovation champion and use their influence to boost smart procurement, open data and digital skills
Manchester is one of the city regions to vote for a new mayor on 8 May – Photo credit: Parrot of Doom, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The soon-to-be elected city mayors should use their power and influence in the UK’s city regions to make digital a fundamental part of their strategies and promote digital devolution, the industry body for small tech companies has said.
TechUK has today (25 April) published a “practical guide” for the new city mayors – due to be elected on 4 May – that sets out the main challenges of digital transformation and poses a series of questions for them to tackle in their first 100 days in the job.
Setting out its definition of digital, TechUK said that it is not just about technology, but about creating a collaborative and user-centric approach to improving public services. Mayors can use both their hard and soft powers that come with the new position to improve the way technology is used, the organisation said.
The report said that digital tools can help city regions increase the efficiency of public service delivery, tackle congestion and create new sources of revenue, as well as boosting opportunities for public-private partnerships and increasing productivity in the region.
Adopting such tools will also help the new mayors address the “significant public policy challenge” that they will face in light of shrinking budgets and increased citizen expectations.
TechUK said the mayors should make a commitment to demonstrate that digital and collaborative working “are the new norm”, and appoint a chief digital and innovation champion to help councils and authorities understand how technology can improve services.
This person will sit across all services and promote digital, open data and smart procurement, and build up effective relationships with the tech industry.
TechUK stressed the importance that the champions must have “real capacity and power to act”, and recommended that an innovative unit be set up to coordinate the work, help foster new partnerships and support the champion.
Mayors are encouraged to investigate existing digital strategies across their regions, and work to map out an overarching roadmap for digital’s role in rebalancing the local economy and reforming public services.
For instance, opening up data offers regions the chance to save money and boost local start-ups by allowing developers to create apps that will provide services and choice to the public. TechUK said open data would be a crucial part of a successful digital city region.
Mayors will also “play a pivotal role” in addressing concerns – real or perceived – about data security, TechUK said, adding that it would be crucial for them to have a clear understanding of the General Data Protection Regulation that comes into force next May.
TechUK also said that, as figureheads in their regions, mayors “can unify the skills and resources available across the city region”, and should work with the digital champion to change the perception of digital where necessary.
Digital devolution will also require mayors to focus on digital skills and digital inclusion, and TechUK recommended that they produce a digital skills taskforce within their first 100 days to create a skills pipeline for training from school to adults.
The report comes as Camden councillor Theo Blackwell published a report into local government’s relationship with technology, which found that most councillors feel positive about technology and its potential to reform public services, but that there are concerns about digital exclusion, complexity and security.
He proposed a five-point action plan for local government that aims to improve collaboration between different councils and with central government – this includes efforts to improve collective procurement and to adopt common standards.