Mayor appoints London’s first chief digital officer

London

By Max Salsbury

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has appointed the capital’s first ever chief digital officer.

Labour councillor Theo Blackwell will now be in charge of quite a lot of things, such as connectivity, digital inclusion, open data, cyber security, data sharing and going round people’s houses to fix their routers (I made the last one up).

Mr Blackwell, who was formerly Camden Council’s cabinet member for finance, technology and growth, claims that the post represents an ‘amazing opportunity’ to improve public services, make London more open to innovation, and support jobs and investment.

He added: ‘The pace of change over the next decade requires public services to develop a stronger relationship with the tech sector. Our purpose is to fully harness London’s world-class potential to make our public services faster and more reliable at doing things we expect online, but also adaptable enough to overcome the capital’s most complex challenges.’

The new CDO will perhaps preside over a new era of driverless cars, drone deliveries and, who knows, killer robots?

Taking time out from being on the end of bizarre Twitter attacks from the President of the United States, the Mayor said: ‘I am determined to make London the world’s leading ‘smart city’ with digital technology and data at the heart of making our capital a better place to live, work and visit. We already lead in digital technology, data science and innovation and I want us to make full use of this in transforming our public services for Londoners and the millions of visitors to our great city.

‘I am delighted to appoint Theo Blackwell as London’s first chief digital officer, and I know he will use his experience working in the technology sector and developing public services to improve the lives of all Londoners.’

Mayor appoints London’s first chief digital officer

IT fraudster jailed for £1m council theft

gavel

A local government IT expert has been jailed for five years after stealing over £1 million from Dundee City Council.

Over a seven-year period, Mark Conway managed to pilfer £1,065,085 from the local authority, which he used to fuel his gambling habit.

Glasgow’s High Court heard that Conway was the council’s top financial IT expert and that the 52-year-old’s position gave him access the council’s financial systems, which allowed him to create invoices that paid money into his own account.

Dundee has managed to recover £7,000 of the stolen funds so far, but the fraudster will also be forced to sell his house and give up his pension to help pay back the debt.

According to a council spokesperson, action has been taken to prevent similar frauds happening in the future.

The spokesperson added: ‘An independent review of procedures has already gone ahead and measures have been put in place to strengthen controls. Dundee City Council is involved in ongoing efforts to ensure that the funds taken from the authority by this individual are recovered.’

Nicky Patrick, who has the interesting job title of Procurator Fiscal for Homicide and Major Crime, said: ‘It is a crime made all the more serious due to the trust placed in him by his employers and the transfer of a large amount of city council funds into his own accounts.’

 

IT fraudster jailed for £1m council theft

Shocking lack of female representation in LG revealed (again)

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By Max Salsbury

It’s not just in the ICT sector that local government is failing to employ enough women in leadership positions – the bit where it does its actual governance is sorely lacking, too, a think tank has revealed.

Shockingly, IPPR’s research shows that only 4% of the leadership of England’s newly devolved institutions (the combined authorities) are women – while there are no directly elected female mayors at all.

The report – Power to the People? – concludes that the huge disparity is caused by the lack of women becoming members of political parties, which is where IPPR say people begin their adventures into local government.

Just 38% of Labour Party members are women, while for the Conservatives the figure is only 36%.

To resolve the issue, IPPR recommends that political parties should collect and publish data on the representation of women and protected groups in relation to their membership. Additionally, local authorities should collect data on elected councillors, which, the IPPR says, could be achieved by amending section 106 of the Equality Act 2010 to include local government.

While we’re on the subject, it seems a good time to mention that we’ve still a few places left on our forthcoming Empowering Women in a Digital World programme. For an excellent insight into the course’s value, have a read of Samantha Smith’s (Head of Strategy and Architecture and Interim Director of IT Operations at Local Government Shared Services) experience. To book your place, please contact our events and projects manager Layla Flack on 01604 876 370, or email layla.flack@socitm.net

Shocking lack of female representation in LG revealed (again)

Small businesses squeezed out of public sector contracts, report

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By Max Salsbury

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are ‘fighting an uphill battle’ to win public sector contracts, a new report has warned.

According to the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) research, the government is failing in its own targets to increase the number of contracts handed to SMEs, as the lion’s share continues to be awarded to larger firms.

The FSB’s report – Unstacking the Deck: Balancing the Public Procurement Odds – reveals that just 23% of the country’s SMEs have worked for the public sector in the last 12 months, down 2% on 2014.

The UK’s public sector sources a whacking £200 billion-worth of goods and services from private firms annually – far too little of which is going to SMEs, the FSB says.

And the organisation isn’t just complaining: unlike Donald Trump, it has actually tried to come up with some solutions, such as making councils publish all £10,000+ contracts on Contacts Finder; giving the Mystery Shopper Service legal powers to enforce its findings, while ‘naming and shaming poor performers’; and getting the government to publish a thorough action plan about how it will better enforce the law.

Which is all very well, but seeing as central government seems to positively enjoy awarding contracts to giant companies that are continually inept, deliver rubbish services and commit large scale fraud, maybe the FSB should be looking elsewhere for help.

Last month, Socitm released a briefing looking at a new marketplace purchasing platform and a buyer support service created by the Crown Commercial Service, which have been designed to assist public bodies when procuring goods and services. You can read all about them here.

The FSB’s National Chairman, Mike Cherry, said: ‘Opening up the public service market is a win-win for everyone involved in the supply chain because when small businesses are used effectively, they are able to create jobs and growth. They are overwhelmingly the route that people take to get out of unemployment while also creating greater competition leading to better value for money for Government.

‘By supporting local small businesses, we are helping to pay the wages of local people who then go and spend money in local businesses which helps the whole local economy. FSB research backs this showing that every £1 spent with a small or medium-size business, 63% is re-spent in the local area. It is crucial that these local firms are given a fair chance to compete.’

Small businesses squeezed out of public sector contracts, report

CPS GETS TOUGH WITH ONLINE HATE CRIME, WHILE TWITTER GETS SLAMMED

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By Max Salsbury

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced new guidance for dealing with online hate crime – which means some the UK’s busiest and most frenzied bullies may have to find new ways to express themselves.

As a day rarely, if ever, passes without celebrities, politicians, sportspeople or random individuals being deluged in a storm of hate and death threats, the authorities have decided to act.

According to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, the recent events in the US town of Charlottesville, where racists clashed with protestors, have brought the situation to a head.  She said: ‘Whether shouted in their face on the street, daubed on their wall or tweeted into their living room, the impact of hateful abuse on a victim can be equally devastating.’

Henceforth, threatening to rape, mutilate, murder or torture someone over the internet will be treated with the same gravity as if you’d done it face-to-face in the real world, the CPS says.

Though they no doubt sounded like terrific utopian communication systems on paper, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become perfect outlets for the thoughts and reflections of angry, miserable, bigoted people, for whom thinking things through in a calm, reasonable way is a challenge.

Indeed, Twitter came in for criticism itself yesterday in the form of a joint report by the Fawcett Society and campaign group Reclaim the Internet, which accused the company of failing to protect women.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who set up Reclaim the Internet, had this to say: ‘Twitter claims to stop hate speech but they just don’t do it in practice. Vile racist, misogynist and threatening abuse gets reported to them, but they are too slow to act so they just keep giving a platform to hatred and extremism. It’s disgraceful and irresponsible.

‘Twitter need to get their act together. Abusive content needs to be removed far more quickly and the company should be doing more to respond immediately to complaints and to proactively identify content that contravenes their community standards.’

Gina Miller, the bane of Brexit fans everywhere, was infamously abused online earlier this year by aristocrat Rhodri Colwyn Philipps, after he ‘joked’ about offering £5,000 to anyone who would run her over. The justice system didn’t find it funny and sentenced him to 12 weeks in prison.

If the CPS does manage to bring some genuine law and order to the feverish world of social media, what will become of all the simpletons? Where will they go? What will they do? Get communications jobs in the White House? The mind boggles.

CPS GETS TOUGH WITH ONLINE HATE CRIME, WHILE TWITTER GETS SLAMMED

What did I learn from taking part in the Empowering Women in a Digital World programme?

Samantha Smith, Head of Strategy and Architecture and Interim Director of IT Operations at Local Government Shared Services (LGSS), discusses how the Empowering Women in a Digital World (EWDW) programme helped her grow on both a personal and professional level.

What do I want to accomplish and what did I want to be known for?

Two of many questions we were asked on the EWDW course. I thought I knew myself quite well when I started the course but when asked those questions I had to pause and reflect. I was keen to attend this course and really looking forward to it but found I was not prepared for its impact.

Continue reading “What did I learn from taking part in the Empowering Women in a Digital World programme?”

What did I learn from taking part in the Empowering Women in a Digital World programme?

Stop the killer robots, UN urged

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By Max Salsbury

Maker of everything Elon Musk has called for the end of so-called ‘killer robots’, warning that they could become weapons of terror.

Along with another 115 technology types, Musk has asked the United Nations to ban the production and use of automated killing machines, such as drones and machine guns that go about their lethal business without a human finger in sight.

It’s an admirable notion but seeing as there are thousands of nuclear warheads in the world that the UN doesn’t seem to have been able to do much about, one suspects that the march towards more expensive ways of blowing things up will continue unabated.

Anyhow, in a letter to the world’s collective conscience, the techies warn that robotic killing machines represent the ‘third revolution in warfare’, with the first two being gunpowder and nuclear bombs.

They write: ‘We don’t have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is open it’ll be very hard to close.’

Back in 2015, when, amazingly, the world seemed a comparatively normal place, the UK government opposed a proposed ban on automated weapons on the grounds that, get this, ‘international humanitarian law already provides sufficient regulation for this area’ – and if that sounds like slippery gibberish, that’s because it is.

Musk has warned on many previous occasions about the threat posed to our ongoing existence by artificial intelligence (AI). He has, I assume, read our briefing on AI from earlier in the year, that covers its current use in local government and which you can read here.

Sadly, killer robots have two large things in their favour: firstly, they tap into the human race’s unparalleled capacity for mass slaughter; and, secondly, they offer a way for a handful of people to make a great deal of money. So, things aren’t looking good.

Stop the killer robots, UN urged