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The UK’s new mayors must think digital

The election of new mayors in devolved regions offers an opportunity to advance digital transformation of local public services

This year, May 4th was not just an important date in a galaxy far, far away – it was also a significant date for local government closer to home, with the election of the first six metro mayors across various city-regions.

Devolution is here, and so is the biggest opportunity to do things differently for local public service reform. That is, if devolution is digital.

The mayors, with their direct and convening powers, have the potential to accelerate the pace of transformation if they adopt a digital-first mindset. Enabling a strong digital infrastructure and culture will ultimately deliver improved service outcomes and drive economic growth.

From demographic change to traffic congestion to improving employment opportunities to local economic wealth, city-regions are faced with a range of challenges. Devolution means a greater focus on a place-based approach, shifting from service delivery to outcomes.

Technology is instinctively designed to assist collaboration and has a facilitating role, helping the new mayor deliver statutory services more effectively and efficiently, meeting rising expectations of citizens and shifting processes from service delivery to public service outcomes.

Technologies such as cloud computing facilitate collaboration and break down traditional barriers to service delivery. However, the public sector market is not yet fully utilising the benefits of cloud computing.

A survey by Eduserv of the 100 biggest councils in the UK found that 44% claim they have no cloud adoption policy, with concerns including who owns data stored in the cloud, data protection compliance and data access.

To address these concerns, TechUK published Building local government trust in the security of cloud. Local government and the new mayors must appreciate the role technology can play in delivering services against budgetary pressures and rising citizen expectations.

The mayors have a monumental task ahead of them to create an environment that enables transformation and allows innovation to flourish. Their vision will play a fundamental role in setting the tone for the pace of change.

Read more about digital local government

Our Digital devolution: Guide for mayors details the practical steps mayors can take in their first 100 days in office to put in place the digital leadership and create a culture that enables more user-centric services, empowered citizens and sustainable economic growth in their regions.

There are already pockets of excellence across the country where digital is not only reforming public services but helping to grow the digital economy. Data Mill North, for example, is a platform where anyone can publish open data to create the core infrastructure for open innovation and collaboration to solve challenges.

Local government and city-regions should avoid duplication and unnecessary costs by putting the mechanisms in place to foster collaboration and sharing of best practice. That is why it was such a welcome announcement when the Mayor of London fulfilled his manifesto pledge of looking to hire a London chief digital officer (CDO), something which TechUK had called for in its London’s digital future: The mayoral tech manifesto.

The CDO will play a vital role in aligning digital strategies, encouraging collaboration and adoption of common standards around data and service transformation.

We urge the new mayors to take note of what is happening in London and place a vision for digital at the heart of their administration. ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

This was last published in May 2017

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