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UCL report projects 5,500 ‘open data’ jobs in Newham by 2035

Report from University College London’s Institute for Global Prosperity says London borough is ‘uniquely placed to seize the data opportunity’

University College London’s Institute for Global Prosperity and Newham Council have published a report projecting the creation of 5,500 “open data” jobs in the borough by 2035.

The report leans on the the Open Data Institute’s definition of open data as “data that anyone can access, use and share. For data to be considered ‘open’, it must be published in an accessible format, with a licence that permits anyone to access, use and share it”.

The report is the latest activity connected with Newham Sparks, the banner name for a data economy initiative launched at London Tech Week in September 2021.

It paints a picture of Newham having comparative advantages for becoming a data economy hub. Its authors, Andrew Percy, Rayhaan Lorgat and Saffron Woodcraft, write: “Newham has long been one of London’s most diverse boroughs. Pre-Covid, it experienced a decade of significant growth and change, with increased job growth, new communities emerging, strong commercial demand, and a large and relatively well-skilled workforce.

“The borough benefits from the broader ‘eastward’ movement of London’s economy, high levels of transport connectivity, rapid increases in the supply of office and industrial space, and innovation districts located around the Olympic Park and the Royal Docks. This makes Newham uniquely placed to seize the data opportunity. Newham’s mission is to become a catalyst – and London’s destination – for innovators and investors in the data sector.”

The 44-page report, Unleashing the power of data to drive shared prosperity: a roadmap to a transformative data society, makes five recommendations to the council. One is to give residents the tools and skills they need to “understand the value of data for doing public good”. The second is to set up “Spark Centres”, which will serve as “digital innovation and entrepreneurship” incubators, situated near libraries and community kitchens.

A Spark Centre is to be accessible within 15 minutes’ walking distance of every resident’s home, according to the report. Activities within each centre will include data literacy classes and code clubs.

As its third recommendation, the report advocates a London-wide “digital identity system”, to be dubbed “Spark ID”. The report’s proposal is for “Newham to take the lead in convening London boroughs with a view to establishing official digital identity with the framework of a pan-London identity”.

The report adds: “A Spark ID would be a digital identity that could be loaded into a smartphone wallet and used to authenticate the holder to access Newham’s services or prove identity. It could use near-field communication [NFC] standards already in widespread use, such as for public transport. Importantly, it would not be a condition of access, but simply an easier method of access.”

The fourth and fifth recommendations are to standardise data collection and sharing across the capital, and to set up what the report calls a “network of universal basic services” to overcome any barriers to the development of a data sector, in relation to digital access, devices, literacy and skills.

Read more about data economy initiatives

The report adds: “Newham should take the lead in partnering with the London Data Board [proposed by the London Data Commission as part of business advocacy organisation London First] to implement standardised data structures, so that Newham’s own data can be incorporated with other local data to amplify the total value.”

Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said the report provides clear evidence from experts about the “potential of the data economy for Newham, quantifying the growth opportunity for our borough, London and the UK”.

In the foreword to the report, Fiaz writes: “That opportunity is for us to seize now: over 5,500 new jobs that don’t yet exist can be created in our borough by 2035, alongside £104m in our local economy to benefit our residents and businesses as part of the estimated ‘high growth’ or ‘optimistic’ £999bn value of the data sector economy as it grows in the UK.

“The report sets out crucial areas for further exploration concerning citizens’ relationship with data, privacy and transparency of data use, alongside the important role that Newham Council can play in convening vital discussions and promoting actions that are driven by data use for the public good.”

Henrietta Moore, founder and director of the Institute for Global Prosperity, said: “The five ambitious recommendations we have set out for Newham put citizens firmly in charge of their own data and that of their communities, driving innovation and bringing a whole systems approach to data policy, data governance, digital value capture and sustainability.

“Our partnership with the London Borough of Newham offers the opportunity to bring significant socio-economic benefits for local citizens, through greater prosperity and improvements in quality of life, including enhanced democratic participation. We look forward to collaborating further with Newham Council to ensure the Sparks initiative blossoms with, and for, the citizens of Newham in the coming years.”

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