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Government must help demystify smart cities

The APPG calls for a coherent strategy from central government to ensure a joined-up approach between businesses

Parliamentary report calls on the Government to do more to support UK cities with innovation
Parliamentary report calls on the Government to do more to support UK cities with innovation

The role of smart cities is not to create “a society of automation and alienation”, but to bring communities together, says a new report by the UK Government. The report, Intelligent Leadership: how government strategy can unlock the potential of smart cities in the UK, also states that many of the country’s “greatest challenges” can be met by smart cities but goes on to highlight some of the barriers to success that still exist.


The report is the result of an inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Smart Cities (APPG) at the end of 2017, which set out to examine the benefits of developing a UK government strategy on smart cities.


Iain Stewart, MP for Milton Keynes South and chair of the APPG, said that at best, ‘smart’ is often equated to expensive gimmicks and “at worst, as a threat to the security and livelihood of citizens”. With Milton Keynes home to one of the UK’s leading smart city projects, MK:Smart, Stewart said he has experienced first-hand the benefits of smart cities and believes they enhance quality of life and increase connectivity “in all senses”.


He added though there remains confusion about what a smart city actually is: “With the term often alienating those it is meant to benefit; the public. There is a need to demystify and simplify the term to increase understanding of and enthusiasm for the smart cities agenda. Therefore, central government has a leading role to play in challenging these misconceptions and misunderstandings.


“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.


“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.”


For the inquiry, members were invited to submit responses to a call for evidence, from which a number of key themes were highlighted. These included the importance of a citizen-centred approach to smart cities; the role of central government in facilitating collaboration between cities; how local authorities can achieve their objectives through smart city solutions; and how smart city pilots can be supported to scale up.


The APPG report puts forward the following recommendations:


Promoting a smart culture

  • Smart cities need to be driven by citizens’ needs, strengthening our influence over our surroundings, increasing our quality of life and enhancing connectivity in all senses
  • Smart technology should be seen as a means to an end to deliver outcomes, rather than an end in itself
  • Smart should underpin the approach of all central government departments, and likewise be a cross-departmental function of organisations
  • Help support progress towards a culture of open data, held and shared by the public sector, in order to improve the delivery of public services for the benefit of the citizen
  • Encourage a culture of collaboration between cities – collaboration is more effective than competition in driving smart cities
  • Encourage a culture of ‘permission to fail’ – empowering local authorities to take risks and innovate
  • Transform the traditional business model by showing how neither the public nor private sectors can afford not to innovate
  • Drive the development of smart solutions through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Convening smart standards and data

  • Strengthen ministerial responsibility for smart cities, with this minister having responsibility for driving forward the government’s convening role in the smart agenda
  • Create a central library of key data, including case studies and robust economic analysis, helping cities to choose the right solutions for them
  • Create a framework for smart cities and set foundational principles and rules, to provide a useful starting point for local authorities which may not have the resources to begin from scratch
  • Appoint chief digital or information officers at all levels of government – ensuring the UK has a digital capacity fit for the 21st Century
  • Develop return-on-investment models which recognise that smart solutions apply across departments and silos. Facilitating smart exports
  • Work to promote the UK’s smart city expertise overseas – central government can ensure the sector benefits from the burgeoning international market for smart solutions.


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