Steve Mathieson is a freelance analyst, journalist and editor, covering IT, government and healthcare, often in combination, writing for publications including The Guardian, I-D Information Daily, editing Society of IT Management's magazine.


Digital technology must redefine the relationship between citizens and state says West Midlands Combined Authority chief

Martin Reeves who is also the digital lead for SOLACE and CEO Coventry City Council said “This is ultimately not about digital, it’s about power. It’s about politicians and professionals letting go. The toughest thing that politicians and professionals will face is that ceding of power"

In a thought provoking and well-received presentation at Socitm's new Better Connected Live event Reeves told the audience of senior executives, and senior managers from both the public and the private sector “This is absolutely about a radical redefinition of the relationship between the state and the people we’re meant to be serving,”  adding that the idea that digital is just about channel shift and fast internet connections is “woefully inadequate" and "a management response”.

“The way which we’re going to create services in the future is about a shift in responsibility, it’s about collaborative design,” he said. "Councils must set long-term digital strategies, rather than using technology tactically to make small changes."

Digital work should not focus on ‘unleashing the power of IT’, he said. “That’s the worst thing to do. Equally, I don’t like to see people locked in cupboards or basements,” he said. “I’m very happy to let them out for a bit of air now and then.” But he added that there is a danger of thinking too much about old IT systems, processes and data protection, rather than making fundamental changes.

Speaking afterwards, Reeves said that the scale and variety of the West Midlands Combined Authority – which Warwickshire recently voted to join – will put it in a strong position among devolved areas. “Doing it at scale, being able to fund infrastructure for a population of 4.5 million, gives us many more opportunities than going it alone,” he said. The area already has strengths in the digital and creative sector, such as Leamington’s ‘Silicon Spa’ cluster for video game development.

He added that the individual councils within the West Midlands Combined Authority have already developed expertise that can be shared such as Warwickshire’s online system for blue badge applications.  “As a combined authority we can understand them better, we can work with our great universities to understand evidentially what works and you can do that at scale, rather than in individual cities.”

Reeves said that Coventry City Council is working to rebuild its centre – which mostly dates from the mid-20th century, after bombing during the Second World War – with ‘digital intent’. “The future of retail will be digitally enabled,” he said, something that is already seen in people researching in shops then buying online. “We want to put in the infrastructure in the city centre of Coventry which is augmented reality,” to allow people to browse products and services; eat, drink and enjoy culture and sport in the centre as well as shop; get access to public services; and use smart transport to get to and from Coventry. 

WATCH MARTIN REEVES IN A FRANK VIDEO INTERVIEW talking about about the failures and successes of local authority leadership in delivering the digital agenda, data security as an excuse for procrastination, public sector failures in using data and "austerity denial" as a brake on the reinvention of public services.

Boilerghouse Online Platforms would like to welcome Steve Mathieson as a regular contributor. Steve's column Work in Progress - The reinvention of public services  will appear in two of our three titles (I-D The Information Daily l Public Service Digital l Healthcare Innovation Monitor) most weeks. 

Warwickshire’s online system for blue badge applications

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