Smart cities 'doomed to fail' without proper financing and senior buy-in

Written by Rebecca Hill on 5 July 2016 in News

Local government lacks the understanding, budgets and leadership to create smart cities, a report has said.

The road is long: Smart cities need bigger budgets and backing in order to succeed - Photo credit: Flickr, in transition

According to the company Lucy Zodion, government needs to establish a roadmap and take the lead on a coherent, cost-effective approach or the UK risks lagging behind other countries in creating truly connected cities.

“Unless significant changes are made, we will continue to see inconsistent approaches to smart cities from councils across the UK,” it said.

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The report, which is based on research carried out in 187 councils between May and June this year, identifies a series of barriers to a consistent roll-out of smart city plans across the UK.

According to the report, around 150 of the councils had no teams of individuals responsible for smart city development.

However, even in cases where there was awareness and understanding, a number of barriers remained, with a major one being a lack of funding.

“Despite the acknowledgement that smarter solution have the potential to save money or streamline services, many councils less involved in smart cities struggle to siphon budget away from core spending,” the report stated.

The councils that are making progress towards smart city development have often brought in external funding, but this was a source of frustration for smaller cities or towns and county councils.

One respondent said: “It’s not considered as a city – it’s a city region, but despite that we don’t get access to the city’s alliance funding or Smart Cities funding.”

In addition, the report said that a lack of funding made it harder for councils to gain internal buy-in.

The difficulties of gaining internal support is exacerbated by a lack of confidence in the idea – with some respondents calling it a “leap of faith” - and a perceived lack of evidence that smart cities are worth the time and money.

“I think a massive barrier is the cost to get into it at the moment,” said one respondent. “There’s not enough proven technology out there that would make you invest in that.”

A further barrier identified by the report is siloed working and a culture that does not support internal collaboration. One respondent said that there was enough money in the council and city overall, but that it could only be accessed by joining up the separate budgets.

The report looked at places that were succeeding in creating smart cities, finding that more experienced councils created a strategy around the solutions they were developing and provided a budget stream for each. They also tended to assess value based on improvements of services or benefits to residents, rather than cost savings alone.

Among its recommendations, the report emphasises the need to engage with citizens when developing services and collaborate with local service providers, small businesses and universities.

In addition, it says that councils need to optimise their existing infrastructure to get the most out of it – as an example, the report suggests using lampposts as places from which to gather data on traffic flows and pollution levels.

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