Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Digital devolution – breathing new life into a traditional role

May 8, 2017

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That may or may not be true – but for the UK’s elected mayors, what was once a ceremonial post is swiftly being galvanised into the heart of the digital age – and its incumbents will need to achieve a lot, very quickly.

The mayor is a stalwart of our history, ever since the first recorded Lord Mayor of London back in 1189. Of course, the position has evolved immensely since then – just look at today’s Mayor of London. First elected in 2000, the position now holds international significance. This latest iteration sees a new wave of elected mayors, each covering several local authority areas, and all will wield considerable power and influence.

Off with the old

Responsible for regional economic plans, the precise remit of the elected mayor will vary according each region’s agreement with government, but it is likely to bear little resemblance to the cloak and chain of office traditionally associated with the post.

And in a timely move, a new publication from techUK entitled Digital Devolution: A Guide for Mayors, discusses the opportunities and challenges devolved mayors will face and sets out a potential action plan for those all-important first 100 days in office.

What exactly is digital?

According to techUK, digital encompasses more than just technology. The organisation’s premise is that digital devolution presents a once in a lifetime opportunity for mayors to run their city regions differently, and that a robust digital infrastructure will encourage greater collaboration, support economic growth and improve conditions for citizens.

From appointing a chief digital and innovation champion to setting up an innovation unit, the paper outlines how a digital approach is vital for the formation of a framework that will successfully help foster new partnerships, form cohesive communities, deliver better connected public services, and attract new revenue streams.

The paper also stresses the importance of collecting and collating regional data, so that mayors can make informed decisions based on local information, helping them forge a unique identity for their region, and economic prosperity based on local trade and other areas of speciality.

They have the power

The document covers a vast amount of ground; it also puts into perspective the enormity of the remit and the many challenges elected mayors will face. It’s a tall order – but the power lies in their hands to develop digital platforms and services that result in efficient city regions where people want to live and that businesses want to invest in.

Cisco understands the need for seamless integration of services, given the depth and breadth of our public sector work across the UK and Ireland. Creating more intelligent cities by tackling traffic congestion and encouraging regional growth, represents a significant part of our public sector portfolio. More on intelligent towns and cities next time.

Anyway, the paper is well worth a read, providing food for thought for any present or future elected mayor, anyone working in local government, or any citizen of the newly devolved region. Mayor’s office. I’m pleased to have been able to play a small role in its development, and will be watching with interest over the next few months as the newly incumbent mayors start to take control of their cities.

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