THE RISE OF URBANTECH: the UK’s local innovation opportunity.

Max Chambers

07 November 2017

Authored by Theo Blackwell, London’s new Chief Digital Officer, and Max Chambers, Public’s Director of Research and a former Downing Street advisor, The Rise of UrbanTech examines the extent to which new digital technologies can help councils achieve fundamental reform and the redesign of services.

Today Public publishes a major new report, The Rise of UrbanTech: How new technology is reinventing local public services. In it, Theo Blackwell and I examine the extent to which new digital technologies – including artificial intelligence, smart sensors, big data analytics and new methods of citizen engagement – can help councils achieve fundamental reform and redesign of local public services.

We find that the breadth of the nascent UrbanTech scene, as well as the dynamism of so many local government leaders – both elected and appointed – shows just how exciting the transformation of local services could be over the coming period. To have mayors like Andy Street, Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham put digital tools at the heart of their plans for the cities they lead means that this change is all the more likely.

Yet despite this leadership and all of the pockets of good practice, we are still a long way from where we need to be. The UK is approaching a moment of opportunity where we could begin to lead the world in adopting new technologies that will transform public services.

But our research finds that too many councils are still failing to grasp the nettle and set about fundamental, far-reaching reform. Large suppliers still dominate, sitting comfortably in decades-long contracts, and these incumbents too often lock out the smaller startups that will deliver the disruption we need. As a result, some local ecosystems remain underpowered and underdeveloped, acting as a brake on the supply side. And a number of cities still seem to mistake using the word ‘smart’ with actually being smart when it comes to procurement, data, design and building more responsive services.

So there is more work to do. More challenges need to be posed by mayors who want to procure solutions differently and invite new investment into the toughest public policy problems. More ideas need to be shared between public officials who should be empowered to take risks and try new approaches. More tech startups need to consider how their products might be applied in innovative ways to improve council infrastructure, administration and front-line services. And more investment needs to flow into the early-stage companies and the founders who have the product and track record to truly transform services.

For startups, the report explains how local government works and the pressures being placed upon councils today, showcases the digital transformation agendas of more than 20 major UK councils, de-mystifies the the procurement process and sales cycles of local government, and maps the key business lines of every council that are ripe for disruption by digital technologies and startups.

“More ideas need to be shared between public officials who should be empowered to take risks…”

For council leaders and local buyers, we provide in-depth case studies of the most exciting start ups and showcase more than 50 of the most innovative companies that could help to radically reform council services – with solutions in customer service, social care, library services, traffic management, citizen engagement, procurement, waste management, finance and many more.

We conclude that if more local councils make a conscious, strategic shift – deciding to engage the most innovative startups and stimulate their local digital economies – the fundamentals are in place not just for a period of rapidly accelerating local government innovation, but for real improvements in the lives of millions of citizens.

To read the full ‘The Rise of UrbanTech’ report, continue to Public’s Insight page.

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