Report calls for councils to make more use of start-ups

London’s chief digital officer co-authors report saying small firms could help in response to budget crisis

A technology capital provider has won the support of London’s newly appointed chief technology officer in warning that local government needs to step up its use of technology to ride out the consequences of sharp budget cuts and the likely impact of Brexit.

Public has made the warning in a report, The Rise of Urban Tech, authored by Blackwell with its director of insight Max Chambers.

It points to the potential of technologies such as artificial intelligence, smart asset management and those to support social care, and says that start-ups are probably best placed to deliver the positive disruption needed in the sector.

Theo BlackwellBlackwell (pictured), who contributed to the report before stepping into the London role, said: “We need to fundamentally and permanently change the way councils operate - everything from their leadership, decision-making and citizen engagement strategies to their staffing, culture, data utilisation, structures and processes.

“Through artificial intelligence and cognitive computing, local councils will have major opportunities to automate high-volume and expensive administrative tasks, while gaining faster access to powerful and sophisticated insights that will help policymakers make better decisions.”

In emphasising the potential of start-ups for local government, the report says they still find it difficult to break into the market as large suppliers often have long term contracts. Central government has made a virtue of what smaller firms can offer, but often been too hand-off in supporting local transformation.

Underpowered, underdeveloped

“As a result, some local ecosystems remain underpowered and underdeveloped, acting as a brake on the supply side,” it says. “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.”

It challenges councils to do more to buy from start-ups and small firms, claiming that more than 50% of council technology spending goes to a handful of multinational companies.

It points to 50 small firms that it says have the potential to transform local government operations, and highlights the progress made by some councils, including Essex, Birmingham, Camden, Leeds and Greenwhich in adopting new technologies.