What is the role of the LEP in Smart Cities?

The Smart Cities APPG event looked at this question

I attended an event on Monday organised by the Smart Cities APPG that discussed the role of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in the smart cities agenda.

The event was chaired by Mark Prisk MP (Chair of the APPG), and speakers included Dr Ann Limb, Chair of the South East Midlands LEP (SEMEP), Geoff Snelson, Director of Strategy at Milton Keynes Council and Alan Ward, Head of BT’s Corporate ICT Research Practice.

Mark Prisk started with a reminder of the role and aims of the APPG: to build strong networks and start a dialogue between public and private sector institutions on how to bring this agenda forward. Moreover, he mentioned that the APPG is planning to come up with practical suggestions to put forward to the government – something to look out for in 2015.

From the rest of the discussion, below are some of the most important things mentioned in relation to the LEPs’ role in smart cities:

Dr. Ann Limb stated that smart cities in the broader sense are very important to the LEP agenda. This is mainly due to the potential for new technologies to facilitate joint working between LEPs, local authorities, and communities. “LEP development is about learning how to be better leaders, work more smartly together and think how to engage in a smart way”, she said.

In his speech, Geoff Snelson echoed Ann by stating that Milton Keynes is in conversations with SEMLEP on how to potentially include some of its planned Smart Projects in the Local Growth Fund bid.

However, when I asked how likely LEPs were to pursue more of these kinds of projects, both Anne and Geoff advised caution. They felt that because most of these projects are relatively new and there is no real evidence on their deliverables, it is hard for LEPs to assess how much revenue they will generate or how many jobs they will create. As a result, making the business case for ‘smart’ projects is still challenging.

Nevertheless, the SEMLEP is working on prioritising smart projects in their 2016-2017 Local Growth Fund bid in order to encourage innovation. “Or else we would only be building roads…” said Ann.

Geoff also mentioned a few additional things that LEPs need to take into consideration:

  • Keep in mind that there is no one definition for “smart cities” (according to him, the confusion around what ‘smart’ means was also quite evident during the Smart Cities Expo in Barcelona last week). LEPs need to build a good understanding of the concept by having conversations on what this can mean for their local areas.
  • LEPs need to also have a good understanding of the local asset base, what opportunities are present in their areas and how to build on what’s already happening.
  • It is also important to understand how the local smart agenda connects to the wider UK system – looking at what other LEPS or cities are doing, how they can learn from each other and how these projects relate to the wider European context.

Discussions also involved the wider challenges that are usually mentioned in relation to smart cities, such as the need for more collaboration between stakeholders, the need to find ways to implement projects at scale and the still unresolved issues around data privacy and security.

In conclusion, discussions suggest that there is an appetite for the SEMLEP (and most probably other LEPs as well) to be more involved in the smart agenda, but it is yet to be seen how and in what form. As this moves forward, the main challenge now is for cities and LEPs to build a strong evidence base for these projects and make sure that they positively impact local jobs and growth. How many are doing so already?

Keep a look out for our future work on smart cities, where we’ll showcase case studies from UK and international cities on smart projects that are already making a positive contribution to cities and their economies.

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