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TechUK urges city mayors to put digital on the agenda

Ahead of local elections, the tech industry body calls on new mayors to lead digital from the top, appoint chief digital and innovation champions and tackle digital exclusion

TechUK has called on mayors to put digital at the forefront of city plans and ensure the right digital leadership is in place to create joined-up services, foster innovation and drive regional growth.

Ahead of local elections next month, the industry body has put in place a digital devolution guide for mayors report, serving as a blueprint for soon to be mayors across the country’s city regions.  

The report argues that by “having a digital-first mindset”, elected mayors could spearhead “the transformation of the city region into ‘smart communities’ where citizens are empowered to shape services and create the places where they want to live”.  

“Digital is instinctively designed to assist collaboration and, by putting digital at the forefront of city region plans, mayors can reshape and integrate services, creating better places to live and drive regional growth,” the report said.

“Adopting a smarter way of working throughout an organisation requires high level buy-in. The new mayor can be at the forefront of this by putting in place the right digital leadership.”

The document sets out a series of questions for mayors to ask in the first 100 days in power to help them take advantage of digital technologies to drive changes.

This includes asking the question of which policies the region has to embed a digital culture and skills. It added that a digital skills taskforce should be assembled in the first 100 days, aiming to put in place a skills pipeline for the local area.  

“A citizen-centric approach should be adopted to ensure policies put users at the heart. The mayor and their team should work closely with the community to tackle digital exclusion,” it said. 

Recently, a report by Camden councillor Theo Blackwell found that digital exclusion is one of the key issues in local government digital transformation.  

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The report also called on mayors to establish an innovation unit, as well as appoint a chief digital and innovation champion (CDIC), reporting directly to the mayor.

“The CDIC will play a unique and supportive role to help leaders, relevant council leads and heads of services understand how digital can re-shape services and become embedded in processes to deliver improved social outcomes,” the report said. 

“By putting in place an empowered champion that cuts across all services and functions, the mayor sends a clear signal of commitment that digital and collaborative working are the new norm, declaring the city region open to innovation.

“The CDIC will also have a pivotal role in identifying opportunities for revenue generation that will help finance future initiatives.” 

Georgina Maratheftis, techUK’s programme manager for local government, said digital devolution “presents one of the biggest opportunities to do things differently, break down the traditional barriers to service delivery to drive improved outcomes for all”. 

“The mayors, with their direct and convening powers, must use their new and unique position to accelerate the pace of transformation, working closely with public sector, the community and industry to deliver better outcomes for all citizens by creating truly joined-up services and places where citizens want to live and thrive,” she said.

The report also urged mayors to look at how to run smart procurements, ensuring they get the services and systems they require, as well as looking at how data assets held by the region can support economic growth. 

“By opening up city region data, you will be also be opening up opportunities for local suppliers to deliver innovative systems while growing the local startup community,” the report said. 

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