London boroughs say Covid-19 shows digital and innovation ‘more important than ever’

An association of councils in the greater London area notes that local government’s capacity to adopt technology and innovate is essential in coping with the post-pandemic world

Marking its first anniversary, the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI), the cross-party group designed to bring the best of digital, data and innovation to benefit London residents, communities and businesses, has stressed the urgent need for faster adoption of digital and data to support the capital’s post-pandemic recovery.

LOTI was launched in 2019 as a collaboration between the London boroughs. The coalition of “willing and able” local authorities, led by director Eddie Copeland, is funded by the Greater London Authority alongside London Councils, which co-ordinates and hosts the initiative, and is also supported by the Mayor of London as part of his commitment to the digital transformation of public services across the capital. The association dedicated much of its first year to addressing barriers to using data, improving technology procurement and building boroughs' digital skills.

In November 2019, LOTI launched a report and interactive dashboard that maps technologies, contracts and skills across boroughs in the capital. 

The platform, dubbed City Tools: London, was developed in partnership with Bloomberg Associates, a pro-bono municipal consulting service. It’s designed to make information around technology resources transparent and easily accessible, so that boroughs can identify new opportunities to collaborate and improve their IT strategies and delivery.

As the association progresses in its mission, it says that its work will continue alongside a substantial programme to help boroughs use digital and data to support their communities recover from the pandemic. Indeed, it believes its members’ capacity to adopt technology and innovate will prove more important than ever in the aftermath of Covid-19.

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, boroughs worked swiftly to support their residents, with LOTI helping councils identify the digital tools and processes they can use to adapt quickly to an array of new challenges. LOTI supported boroughs to use data to understand which of their residents may be most in need as a result of Covid-19 and its team also identified barriers to and solutions for cross-organisational working, produced a guide to holding online council meetings, and compiled recommendations for improving the government’s Devices for Children laptop provision scheme.

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Even though the Covid-19 pandemic has put unprecedented strain on boroughs, this has also made it clear that technology and innovation in public services are more important than ever, said Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney and London Councils’ Digital Champion.

“London local government made excellent use of digital tools to adapt speedily to the difficult new circumstances we found ourselves in, with LOTI helping to facilitate this work, breakdown silos, and co-ordinate learning between the boroughs,” he said.

“While there remain massive challenges ahead, boroughs and our small but incredible LOTI team are determined to continue improving our use of digital resources for the benefit of our residents. Since it was established last summer, LOTI has been integral to pushing forward this agenda. I have no doubt its role will become even more crucial in the months and years to come.”

Theo Blackwell, London’s chief digital officer, added: “LOTI is making it easier for London and its 33 local authorities to harness the power of tech and data to improve Londoners’ lives.

“By acting as an incubator for the adoption of new ideas and working closely with councils, City Hall and Transport for London, it has been able to tackle complex city-wide problems during the pandemic. I have no doubt that in the years to come LOTI will continue to drive city-wide change with solutions designed to meet Londoners’ needs.”

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