At this week’s North East ICT managers meeting we spent a lot of time talking about devolution. It is a topic that is exercising the minds of many of us in local government at the moment. It is the hot button issue.
It was a good meeting. All of the seven councils in the soon-to-arrive North East Combined Authority were there and we were joined by colleagues from Stockton and Nexus, the transport executive. We spent the first hour on devolution and what this might mean to us in technology. What will it mean to our services? Will it create new opportunities or indeed new threats?
There may not be any immediate change however. After all, the powers that are being transferred from Westminster to the region have been well defined. They are transport, skills and inward investment. All of these have technology written all over them. Transport is a fantastic generator of data that can be used for all sorts of applications, including improving traffic flow. Technical and other related information skills are the very skills that are going to be needed for a successful economy and all inward investment will be by companies using some sort of technology.
Technology may be a fundamental part of our future yet it does not feature prominently, or at least obviously, in the plans of the combined authority. No individual has technology or information in their job title. This doesn’t mean that it is not being considered just that it doesn’t leap out at you.
Eventually, as chair, I steered the conversation round to what we would like to see happening with technology across the region. If we had a place at the top table what would we say? If it was our responsibility what would we do?
Of course it is much easier to stand on the side-lines and moan than to do something about it and after some thought we struggled to think of something that would set the virtual heather on fire. Yes, there were many things that we could do yet many of them were iterations of what we already have underway. Improving connectivity is an example yet we have plans in place to get superfast broadband to more than ninety eight per cent of the population and trials of even faster speeds are underway. We’ve already suggested at trial of 5G mobile connectivity.
Improving digital skills is another one which we’ve all been focussed on while the shared services agenda has been around for a long time. What we need is something that is revolutionary, memorable and can get the region behind us. But what?
A few things popped out in the end. Integrated data across the public sector could give us the impetus for smarter and more coordinated working while launching our own satellite (NESat?) might provide more of the raw material we could use. That would be exciting. A focus on advanced manufacturing and the skills they need could stimulate the economy while we mustn’t forget about the Northern Institute for Technology that Dynamo are working on.
That’s what we will say when we are asked.