Smart Cities - UK opportunities and potential

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey opening address to The Telegraph's Smart Cities Conference 2015

Ed Vaizey

Good morning.

It is usual at these events to begin with a statistic. The estimates of the economic value of this sector keep growing, so I will not try to pin that down.

Instead, I point to your next customers. By 2050, over 7 billion people will live in urban areas. Somewhere around the size of the total global population today.

If we, and our children, and their children, are to live well and prosperously, we have to get cities right. We will need cities to manage transport, water, energy and waste, better than they do now.

We will need cities to manage change, planning, and sharing information, better than they do now.

All this against a background of population growth, shifting demographics, a changing climate, and resource crunches.

Technology will not be the answer to everything, but it must be part of the answer.

UK capability

The UK has world-leading companies in engineering, design, architecture, the digital economy, finance, legal and insurance.

We have a robust cyber-security suppliers market, and a strong research base with some of the best universities in the world. UK consumers are typically early and enthusiastic adopters of technology.

And the UK is delivering data-driven innovation. Crossrail will be a digital railway, setting a new benchmark in smart infrastructure development.

At the other end of the scale there are many innovative local data projects, like Bath Hacked, which uses open data to help with school applications, track new business creation, guide travel around town, and report on air quality.

Smart cities and devolution

UK citizens do not yet expect from local services the same responsiveness that they expect from consumer technology and services. But perhaps they are beginning to. It is the right ambition.

Fortunately, the Government is not going to try to impose a single approach on the UK’s diverse places. Towns and cities, and companies and citizens, will make their choices to fit local priorities. The Government is committed to giving cities and regions the power to make their own decisions.

Making better use of data and technology locally can deliver local growth and a better quality of life, and at the same time help that devolution work in practice.

City regions and combined authorities are complex entities. They are also new opportunities for sharing and using data.

Places will need leaders who can recognise these opportunities, and have the powers to realise them. And they will also need to empower their local digital leaders to deliver.

Innovation - Future Cities Catapult

We will need innovation. Here in London we have the Future Cities Catapult.

The Catapult’s Urban Innovation Centre opened in March, in Clerkenwell. Their Cities Lab uses data science, the Internet of Things, economic analysis, predictive models and user-centred design to address city challenges. Projects have run in Aberdeen, Bristol, Birmingham, Glasgow, London, Manchester and Milton Keynes, and overseas. Recently, the Catapult has worked with Bristol on a proposal on data devolution, by which they mean establishing the powers to access and control public data sources at a local authority level, to create and use the most valuable city data sets.

City Standards Institute

City leaders have many demands to meet, while finding new ways to deliver services. The right guidance can be invaluable.

The Cities Standards Institute – the joint initiative from the British Standards Institution and the Future Cities Catapult – creates free tools to support those decisions. The programme has delivered an overview for city leaders, a framework for building a city strategy, and guides to terminology, to planning the smarter city, and to using city data.

Internet of Things Cities Demonstrator

New city technologies need to be demonstrated at scale, so that cities can see, and copy, sustainable business models.

As part of the broader UK Internet of Things programme, Innovate UK is delivering an Internet of Things Cities Demonstrator competition.

Entries came in from all around the UK, from large and smaller cities. Innovate UK say the quality was very high, and six exceptional bids have been shortlisted.

I want to pay tribute today to the fantastic work that has gone into all the bids.

This is not about technology innovation for its own sake. The demonstrator must deliver specific benefits for citizens, the city region and the environment, and economic benefits for businesses and local authorities, during and after the demonstrator period.

UK city projects

Meanwhile, UK cities continue to innovate. The London Datastore aggregates data from across the capital, with over 500 datasets, and developers build applications that turn that data into the basis for action.

Individual boroughs are acting too. Greenwich will launch its own smart strategy very soon.

Bristol and Milton Keynes are well known as urban innovators already, but are both continuing to develop further new initiatives.

The Leeds Data Mill opens data from public, private and third sector organisations, including utilities, to reveal city conditions and opportunities.

Leeds also has a digital communication project to reduce social isolation among the elderly. They are working on a standard for wireless connectivity in new, low energy homes, to monitor the health of occupants and the condition of the building, giving better protection to vulnerable people at lower cost.

Peterborough is improving the skills of its citizens in new ways, and aspires to be the UK’s environment capital.

Smart Cities in the mainstream

There is enormous potential not yet realised in UK towns and cities learning from each other, and from international examples.

But the sector is maturing. I felt there was a risk that terms like “smart” and “future” could make this sector sound marginal. I hope no one is making that mistake any more.

As I said, smarter services support Government priorities on devolution and digital transformation.

Future infrastructure is another major priority for the government, to enable future growth. Increasingly, high quality new infrastructure will be smart infrastructure, digitally-enabled, whether rail, roads, buildings or street lighting. Your sector is right in the mainstream now.

I welcome the new industry body, Smarter UK. It is always a sign of maturity, when a sector starts forming bodies to badger us.

I am also pleased to hear that Open University and Milton Keynes have launched a free online smart cities course available to anyone globally, to help people understand opportunities.

This is bigger than individual technologies. When technologies work, we get used to them. We got used to the internet, and even more quickly to smartphones.

The goal is that cities should be able to deliver what they need to deliver, for their citizens’ health, safety and prosperity. And they should have the capacity to use the available technology, where that helps.

Making better cities is a major national and international transition, part of the next stage of digital transformation.

We cannot see the end of it, because we cannot see a point where the innovation will end.

I know you have a great group of city experts speaking here today. I wish you a successful day.

Thank you.

Published 21 October 2015