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Smart Essex digital programme gets under way


County council sets out workstreams for social care, transport and data, and commits to using GOV.UK Verify

Essex County Council has laid out plans for using technology in social care, smart transport and for the long term use of data from lamppost-mounted sensors in a new digital programme.

It has launched its Smart Essex Digital with an accompanying pledge to include the GOV.UK Verify identity assurance platform as part of its future service delivery, and saying that it wants to work with other public sector bodies and the private sector in developing the programme.

The council presented its thinking at a launch event in London yesterday, making clear that it has not yet developed full details, but plans to publish an implementation strategy later in the year.

David Wilde (left in photo), the council’s executive director for digital and chief information officer, told UKAuthority: “By engaging with other councils and the private sector it will inform how we develop the strategy. We will publish a fully formed delivery strategy.”

Stephen Canning, the council’s lead member for the programme, added: “Anything we do and learn, at events like today’s, we will share with other public sector organisations.

Smart Lives

The programme comprises three work streams, one of which is named Smart Lives and involves the council providing £7 million from the 3% adult social care precept for the next financial year to support the creation of new technology for the service.

“It’s about how we improve things for people living at home, staying at home for longer, giving them what they should have. We’ve ring fenced the precept to delivery new digital ways for delivering adult social care.”

The second is Smart Movement, which involves developing a digital platform and a Total Transport App – supported by an investment of £100,000 for an initial scoping – to match supply with demand for transport around the county. Canning said this is aimed at correcting an imbalance by which Essex, along with neighbouring Suffolk, is currently ploughing about £90 million per year into public transport, much of which goes to subsidising almost-empty buses.

Canning said the council’s investment in the area could well increase in the future.

Lamppost plan

Third is Smart Places, under which Essex plans to spend £2 million in working with BT on a sensor device to be mounted all the lampposts around the county. It has not yet targeted a specific purpose: Wilde said that the device could be adapted over the long term to collect data on a wide range of factors, such as air quality, traffic movements and footfall.

“We were keen that it should not just be about traffic and pollution,” he said. “We are working on a device that does nothing specific, but come up with what we want it to do in the future.

“It reflects the way we expect to do IT now, with one device for multiple purposes. It’s about collecting data, and if you think about what you are collecting as programmable

The council aims to create a Data Supermarket in which individuals, developers and businesses could obtain anonymised data – some free, some at a cost – to use for information and in developing services. It could also be used to develop the local economy.

“The potential is that anyone will be able to add data to this,” Canning said. “If I were a company with information, I could place it in the marketplace and set a fee if I wish.”

Authentication ambition

He added that, while Essex has not yet identified the initial use for Verify, he believes it will be an effective platform for enabling people to authenticate their identities for using the council’s digital services.

“There’s a need to be careful that we don’t have loads of different solutions for checking our identities, and I’m keen that we join Verify as a large county council to encourage others to join,” he said.

“My ambition is for any service the council provides to use Verify.”

Canning also emphasised that there will be plenty of experimentation, and probably a few unsuccessful projects, within the programme. But he believes this will be more productive in the long term.

He said: “The most important thing is that, we have deliverables, but we’re not afraid to say ‘We were wrong with that, let’s start again’. I don’t think local government, or the whole public sector, does that enough.

“It’s about us doing this to make Essex a better place.”

This article was amended on 1 March after Essex updated the figure on the money from the adult social care precept to go into digital developments.

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