Queen’s speech: what to watch for and what’s missing

Martin Ferguson, Director of Policy and Research, Socitm

Her Majesty’s 64th Queen’s speech involved less ceremony than usual. As a result of the Conservative party lacking an overall majority in Parliament it also lacked several measures promised in that party’s manifesto.

Those councils involved in the development of autonomous vehicles will be interested in a bill which would extend motor insurance to cover them. But there is material in the speech for all Socitm members to consider – as well as gaps the government should think about filling.

The Queen’s speech includes a new data protection law which will implement the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and directive on data processing by law enforcement. This is ironic given the Brexit process which will dominate this session of Parliament, but unavoidable given GDPR’s 2018 deadline and the need to bring data protection into line with the penetration of all things digital. The bill will also include a right to be forgotten, which although aimed at social media platforms, could impact on the public sector.

The speech also includes plans for a digital charter, supporting the government’s aim to make the UK the safest place to be online. Briefing notes on the speech say this “will make sure that technology companies do more to protect their users and improve safety online” and points out Theresa May’s agreement with other G7 countries to do more in this area. But as a non-legislative measure, a charter may be limited in what it can achieve.

Another planned non-legislative measure is a counter-terrorism review, which among other things aims to stop the spreading of extremist material online. The briefing notes say that this will mean “encouraging tech companies to do more to remove harmful content from their networks”. Again, while this does not appear to be aimed at the public sector, it may have implications for public IT infrastructure and networks in schools, libraries, care homes and elsewhere.

There is plenty that we would like to have seen in the government’s programme that is not in the speech. On social care, following the Conservative u-turn on charges during the election, its plan is just to consult on proposals. Socitm believes that the government should be moving at pace from high-level strategy, exemplified in Personalised Care 2020, to widespread practical integration with healthcare in England, including shared digital care records, as well as a single information governance toolkit for government, and model designs and digitally-enabled processes for key areas of social care. More resources and action on place-based integration across the public sector, rather than high-level strategies, would generally be welcome.

While a review of online security makes sense, the government appears to be focusing on technology companies. More is needed to secure the public sector as a whole too, such as through better awareness, risk management and threat mitigation training for senior managers, and incident response, in local public services. In general, the government could help in establishing more regional capabilities in cyber security skills, health and social care integration, place-based data aggregation and analytics, outcomes-based service redesign and digital transformation and digital inclusion.

The local public sector also needs support in recruiting, retaining and training skilled staff from all backgrounds, as well as improving leadership skills.

Finally, there is a case for central government to provide seed funding to facilitate a quick and widespread transition to shared platforms where the case for such can be made, with room for the Government Digital Service to undertake further work in this area. Without government support, progress on shared services will be slow and patchy rather than transformative.

Queen’s speech: what to watch for and what’s missing

Socitm’s David Hopkins becomes Milton Keynes mayor

Long-standing Socitm member David Hopkins has become mayor of Milton Keynes, after nearly 40 years in local government. Read more.

Councillor Hopkins attended his first Socitm conference in the late 1990s when working for telecoms company Mercury, getting involved with the organisation through Bob Griffith, former head of IT services at Northamptonshire County Council. He recently stepped down as secretary of Socitm’s East region.

As deputy mayor, Hopkins opened Socitm’s annual conference last year in Milton Keynes. In his welcome speech, Hopkins described Milton Keynes as the most successful of all the UK’s post-war new towns with a current population of 260,000 and a target of 400,000 by 2050, with ambitious plans to use technology in this expansion. “In Milton Keynes, MK Smart is a live deployment of multiple smart city applications, which are being collectively designed to make tangible improvements to public service delivery, business innovation and citizen engagement,” he told the event.

MK Smart hopes to cut water use by 20%, energy use by 3% and traffic congestion by half. The MK Data Hub already publishes a wide range of open data, include traffic using the city’s roundabouts; the locations and passenger numbers on of buses; and usage data for its neighbourhood recycling centres. Socitm has published guides to such work on smart places and location intelligence.

Hopkins was deputy leader between 2011 and 2014 when the Conservative group led the council and more recently served as chair of the overview and scrutiny management committee. The mayor must be apolitical, but Hopkins says that the parties agree on Milton Keynes’ growth plans and the smart technology needed to support it, and he will be promoting the work at events this year.

Milton Keynes has several advantages in adopting technology, he says: “Because we’re growing so fast, we can fit infrastructure that supports our smart city credentials,” such as high capacity broadband. “To retrofit is a very expensive thing to do.” It can also take advantage of communications infrastructure such as ducting fitted by BT during the 1990s.

Last October Milton Keynes hosted autonomous vehicle trials run by University of Oxford spin-out company Oxbotica, and the UK’s Transport Systems Catapult innovation centre is based in the town. The council is hoping to introduce an autonomous vehicle service running from the train station to the main shopping areas by the end of this year.

Hopkins says Socitm is good at bringing together suppliers and customers to the benefit of both. “There’s always a natural suspicion on both sides,” he says. “The suppliers only want to come to conferences to sell us stuff – which they do – and from the suppliers, that they will talk to no end of IT managers who aren’t really interested because they’ve got their set deals in place.”

But Socitm groups allow both sides to discuss issues and co-operate, such as through councils trialling a supplier’s products: “Working with Socitm, you can be the test-bed for new technologies free of charge.” Hopkins adds: “I think the suspicion between both sides has broken down now, and people are genuinely keen on working together and making a difference.”

Socitm’s David Hopkins becomes Milton Keynes mayor

Some thoughts about the Government Transformation Strategy 2017-2020


By Dr Andy Hopkirk, Socitm Head of Research

We are four years on from the first Government Digital Service’s Government Digital Strategy of November 2012 and we now have GDS’s Government Transformation Strategy 20172020 just published (9 Feb 2017, http://bit.ly/2lnh1qV). What’s the difference between just more digital and transformation? And what does it look like meaning for Socitm members who are mostly in organisations outside Whitehall?

Continue reading “Some thoughts about the Government Transformation Strategy 2017-2020”

Some thoughts about the Government Transformation Strategy 2017-2020

See beyond the ordinary with technology


By Adrian Hancock, Socitm CEO

I have just been reading a blog about distributed ledger technology, which uses Blockchain as its core platform, and how its real ability to disrupt is not so much about how it enables transactions, but the way in which it builds and embeds trust.

Continue reading “See beyond the ordinary with technology”

See beyond the ordinary with technology

Blockchain technology: could it transform digitally-enabled councils?


By Dr Andy Hopkirk, Socitm Head of Research

As the professional network for digital leaders in local public services, Socitm is at one with those that think there is great potential in blockchain technology, and perhaps even a step change on the road to a truly all-digital, open e-economy.

Blockchains underpin Bitcoin and other digital currencies, the first applications of the concept. These ‘digital crypto-currencies’ are viable alternatives to fiat paper money systems. They can operate without the need for a central bank or any other kind of single authoritative organisation to manage the money system and engender trust in it.

Continue reading “Blockchain technology: could it transform digitally-enabled councils?”

Blockchain technology: could it transform digitally-enabled councils?