Shortfall is stopping local government building smart cities

The government’s digital strategy aims to boost our digital sectors, overcome barriers to growth and innovation, and create more high-skilled, well-paid jobs and first-class digital infrastructure and skills.

It is also trying to close the digital divide, allowing everyone access to the digital services that could help them manage their lives, progress at work, improve their health and wellbeing, and connect to friends and family.

Fundamental to this is the focus on making the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business. This means creating the conditions to support small and medium-sized businesses in building smart cities.

In pursuit of these ambitions, the government has developed programmes and opened funding for specific areas. One example is the Catapult network, which hopes to transform the UK’s capability for innovation and drive economic growth. That’s to be applauded.

But there is a limit to the programmes and funding pots available, and only local authorities that have the resources to bid for and run these programmes can really participate.

That’s an increasingly small group in these times of austerity, and it’s no surprise that the same councils are often successful in securing the funding and the signature programmes. That’s not a criticism, just an observation.

US engineering firm Black & Veatch’s 2018 survey on smart cities reported that two-thirds of government personnel gave lack of resources as their top reason for the delayed rollout of smart city technologies. The reality is that local authorities without resources miss out.

How does this resource constraint impact small and medium-sized businesses? As a relatively new one we are extremely supportive of the government’s strategy and are among the new innovators the UK is seeking to foster and grow.

In a post-Brexit economy, UK businesses like ours need to be at the forefront of developing the technology to lay the foundations for smart cities around the world – whether that’s 5G mobile networks, the internet of things, or electric self-driving vehicles.

Smart cities open a new model for local authorities and businesses: a way to work together for our mutual benefit. But business and local government need to make time to listen to each other.

The opportunity is within our grasp, so let’s not allow a lack of resources to hinder our chances of success. We need to work collaboratively to overcome that challenge.

Steve Peel – Senior Executive, Urban Innovation at Pulse Smart Hub