UK govt urged to adopt smart city strategy
A UK report on smart cities contains recommendations that Australia may want to incorporate into its own future cities strategies.
Governments around the world are exploring ways to make their cities smarter and more livable for residents, and Australia is no exception. The Australian Government can take some cues from its closest international partners to help it fulfil its smart city ambitions.
The UK's All Party Parliamentary Group on Smart Cities recently published the report from its inquiry into a UK government smart city strategy. The report contains a series of recommendations that could inspire Australian politicians to implement their own reforms.
The report found that in government there is skepticism and even concern about the concept of smart city technologies. ‘Smart’ technologies are often considered at best to be expensive gimmicks and at worst to be a threat to the security and livelihood of the citizens the technologies are supposed to benefit.
Among the public themselves there is also confusion and a lack of understanding about the concept. The report cites a need to demystify and simplify the term for the public consciousness.
This aligns with recent research from marketing company Posterscope, which found that less than a quarter (23%) of UK consumers had even heard of the term smart city. But when informed about projects such as smart water, smart energy and smart traffic control initiatives, consumers were quick to see the potential benefits.
Australian governments at all levels may therefore want to consider campaigns to increase public awareness of smart cities and their benefits.
According to the report, smart cities are accessible for people of all needs and physical abilities, can better support the most vulnerable members of society and have local authorities that work closely with their citizens to develop revolutionary new services.
Smart city technologies also have the potential to reduce the strain on the UK’s National Health Service by opening up data sharing in health care, make transport more efficient by introducing smart technology such as smart ticketing and bring a myriad of other benefits.
The global smart cities market is meanwhile predicted to grow to US$1.94 trillion ($2.63 trillion) by the end of 2023, meaning that countries that take the lead with the smart cities agenda have huge potential to tap into the growing smart cities market overseas.
The report also gives a series of recommendations for the UK government. A key suggestion involves strengthening ministerial responsibility for smart cities.
The report suggests options including introducing a Minister for Smart Cities, reinstating the post of Minister for Cities or introducing a Minister for Interoperability in charge of managing smart cities across the numerous sectors covered such as transport, health, energy and digital.
Australia is well placed in this regard, as the federal government already has a Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities, as well as an Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation.
Meanwhile, the report also recommends creating a library of key smart city data accessible by local authorities and the private sector.
This library should include case studies of best and worst practice, economic analysis of previous smart city projects including data on return on investment, a trove of design patents, as well as points of contact for fostering collaboration.
Going further, the report calls on the government to develop a framework for smart cities — complete with foundational principles and rules — for local authorities to use as a jumping off point.
Such a framework could include setting common standards for procurement to address the deficiencies of traditional procurement practices for smart city projects. It may also include guidelines for more strategic investment, as well as centralised standards for measuring the performance of smart cities.
Local CIOs needed
The report also recommends that the government produce messaging aimed at encouraging local governments to adopt a smart culture.
Such a culture would put citizens at the heart of the smart cities agenda, be outcomes focused with technology seen as a means to achieving these outcomes and put collaboration between cities before competition.
Government should also promote a culture of breaking down silo thinking and thinking horizontally rather than vertically. The report likewise recommends encouraging data sharing to improve the delivery of public services, promoting the message that cities can’t afford not to innovate and encouraging a culture of permission to fail.
In another recommendation that the Australian Government may want to consider, the report recommends that the UK government play a role in encouraging local authorities to appoint CIOs and chief digital officers, and seek to establish a national forum of these officers. Likewise, at a national level, the report suggests forming a central body of CIOs from each government department.
The report suggests that the government develop return-on-investment models for smart city projects that recognise the fact that both the costs and benefits of smart city initiatives are split across multiple budgets.
Finally, to secure a position for the UK in the global smart city technology market, the report calls on the government to play a role in promoting homegrown technologies overseas, such as by sending representatives of UK cities on global trade missions.
“The report sets out how, with a few small steps, the government can support the expansion of smart cities and allow them to recognise their potential. The economic potential of the UK becoming a leader in smart cities is huge — with the smart approach helping cities become more efficient and with a burgeoning overseas market ready to tap in to,” APPG on Smart Cities Chair Iain Stewart MP said.
“A coherent strategy from central government is needed to ensure a joined-up approach between businesses. As a first step, the government should create a central virtual library of resources and best practice, and set foundational principles and rules that cities can follow.”
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