Leeds City Council – Success in 2019

Leeds City council meetup

Written by Stephen Blackburn, Data and Innovation Manager, Leeds City Council

As we near the year end, it’s always a good time to reflect on how things have gone over the past 12 months.  On the whole, I’d say it’s been a pretty successful one, both for me personally and for us all here at Leeds City Council.

In late 2018, we found out that we had been successful in becoming one of the final Challenge Owners in the government’s GovTech Catalyst programme. Our challenge, “How can technology help to improve the management of our housing stock, leading to improved health outcomes of our tenants”, brought together colleagues from two of our main Smart Cities priority areas, Health and Housing. Planning started in earnest straight after Christmas and perhaps it was a bit of naivety on my part, but I’ve been surprised just how much of my time the project has taken up – sorting out five separate contracts, managing payments, regular catch ups and meetings and a film shoot for the GDS Sprint event! It has been a really exciting project however, and one that we here at Leeds City Council and the five companies we have worked with have got an awful lot out of. The Research and Development phase has now completed with some really good outputs and we’ll know by the end of January if we’ll be proceeding to phase 2 where we would continue to work with two of the companies to co-design and produce solutions to the challenge. The start of 2020 could be just as busy!

It’s been a year of awards for us here at Leeds. I was incredibly honoured to be awarded the Smart Cities UK Leader of the Year award in February. What made this more special was that it was based on votes from my colleagues and peers – so once again, I would like to say thank you very much to all those who voted for me. At the Digital Leaders Awards in June, Leeds City Council was successful in securing the Digital Council of the Year Award which was recognition of the great work taking place right across the organisation – thanks again to Digital Leaders for putting on such a great ceremony.  I also want to give a big shout out to my colleague, Claire Duffield who is the driving force behind bringing #TechMums to Leeds and who helped secure the award for the UK’s most diverse and inclusive digital initiative at the recent 2019 Women in IT Excellence awards.

Our digital inclusion programme, 100% Digital Leeds has gone from strength to strength. It is the largest programme of its kind in the UK and making a real difference. We now have over 300 tablets that are being used by 3rd sector organisations to help the people they work with in their communities. For example, St. George’s Crypt, a homeless charity in the city, is using the tablets to improve the digital skills of homeless people to help them find work and a place to live. We’re also in the process of installing free council wi-fi in a further 20 community buildings helping more people to get online.

We seem to have hosted more events in Leeds this year than I recall from previous years – always a good sign that things are on the up! In October, we were the first city to host a roadshow for Smart Cities UK – the first time they have been out of London! Over the summer, Government Digital Service brought their flagship GDS Sprint event to the city and the Digital Health Summer School was hosted by the University of Leeds. We’ve also been doing a lot more work in promoting the council’s Digital and Smart City efforts through events such as our Digital Show ‘n’ Tells, Care Home Technology event and Inclusive Growth workshops. We have recently returned from the Barcelona Smart Cities Expo where for the 3rd year in a row, Leeds City Region was the only UK place to have a physical stand. With a delegation of over 60 people this year and from a variety of organisations across the region, this really does showcase our commitment to making Leeds the best digital city in the UK.

What’s in store for 2020? Well, I predict another busy year. We’ll be finalising the procurements of our full fibre roll out programme and LoRaWAN network which will open up lots of IoT opportunities. We’ll be looking at a new city data platform to better manage the real time data we’ll be collecting and of course, make as much of it available as open data as we can.

So, on reflection, I think 2019 has been a bit of a turning point for us. Our smart city initiative, Smart Leeds, has found it’s feet and the foundations are now being put in place that will enable 2020 to be a real game changer in how we can deliver our future services. Bring it on!

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