Teams of ‘data geeks’ key to the success of city devolution, says Policy Exchange

Eddie Copeland

Head of Technology Policy, 2013-15

New report says mayors should be required to set up data offices to create smarter, more productive cities

Elected mayors should be required to set up an Office of Data Analytics comprising of small, expert teams tasked with using public and privately held data to create smarter and more productive cities.

A new paper, Smart Devolution, by leading think tank Policy Exchange says that most cities have vast quantities of data that if accessed and used effectively could help improve public services, optimise transport routes, support the growth of small businesses and even prevent cycling accidents.

The report highlights how every UK city should use the additional powers they receive from Whitehall to replicate New York by employing a small team of data experts to collect and collate information from a range of sources, including councils, emergency services, voluntary organisations, mobile phone networks and payment systems.

The data teams will provide city mayors with a great opportunity to break down the silos that exist between local authorities and public sector bodies when it comes to unlocking information that could save money and improve the standard of living for the public.

Examples of how a better use of data could make our cities smarter include:

  • Preventing cycling accidents: HGVs travelling through city centres should be required to share their GPS data with the city mayor’s Office for Data Analytics. Combining HGV routes with data from cyclists obtained by their mobile phone signals could provide real time information showing the most common routes shared by large lorries and cyclists. City leaders could then put in place evidence based policy responses, for example, prioritising spending on new bike lanes or updating cyclists via an app of the city’s most dangerous routes.
  • Spending smarter: cities could save and residents benefit from the analysis of  anonymised spend and travel information to understand where investment and services are needed based on real consumer decisions. Locating schools, transport links and housing when and where it is needed. This also applies to business investment with data being harnessed to identify fruitful locations.

Eddie Copeland, author of the report, said:

“Data will be fundamental to the success of city devolution and smarter cities. Yet most cities lack the ability to join up, analyse and act upon the vast quantities of data they already have. By establishing an Office of Data Analytics, cities will also improve the quality and reliability of their open data.

“Devolution provides city mayors with a great opportunity to break down the data silos that exist between different local authorities and public sector bodies.  With 80% of Brits residing in urban areas and the population of our cities ever increasing, it is vital that our cities become smarter to cope with growing pressures on public services, transport and housing.”

Sean Weir, Director Smart & M2M, Arqiva, added:

“It is only by rolling out large scale projects to create Smart Cities that we will truly be able to make a difference to the lives of local citizens. What is clear however, is that cities need help and encouragement if they are to implement the scale of changes required to unlock the benefits of smart technologies. Many initiatives we see are only small pilots or lab-based experiments which gain little awareness and progress no further than the initial trial stage.

“A nudge to cities through the devolution agenda may be just what is needed to propel Smart Cities forward.

“Better use of the public and private data that cities and the Internet of Things generates will also help to deliver and explain the benefits of Smart Cities to citizens and policy makers. This is an area in which our own research has shown a fundamental lack of understanding about the progress and impact being made by the UK’s cities.”


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