West Midlands ‘shifts focus’ of digital leadership on back of 5G plans

Written by Sam Trendall on 7 February 2019 in News
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Plans for chief digital officer are shelved but authority remains focused on ‘embedding digital capability’ across the organisation

Birmingham's skyline  Credit: Tony Hisgett/CC BY 2.0

West Midlands Combined Authority has rejigged its technology strategy and decided not to recruit a chief digital officer. The organisation will, instead, assemble a team focused on “embedding digital capability” across the organisation to support the rollout of the region’s £50m 5G test bed programme.

A year ago, WMCA announced that it was recruiting for the newly created post of chief digital officer – a senior role targeted at digital strategy and services, reporting directly into mayor Andy Street.

But a spokesperson told PublicTechnology: “We interviewed a number of candidates for the CDO role, but in the end we didn’t find quite the right fit for a rapidly changing programme.”

Rather than recommencing the search for an overarching digital head honcho, the authority instead wishes to develop technology expertise in individual service areas. Digital is cited as the “golden thread” running through the region’s Local Industrial Strategy. The document outlines a range of proposals for using tech and innovation to develop skills, infrastructure, and the economy.

“We are mainstreaming leadership of the agenda within our portfolios – and this will continue to evolve as these programmes grow,” the spokesperson said.


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Published in October, the strategy came just a month after the region’s success in bidding to become the UK’s first wide-scale test bed for 5G technology. The Urban Connected Cities (UCC) programme run by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport awarded the West Midlands with as much as £25m in funding – which is being matched by the same amount in contributions from local partners – to run pilots of 5G networks across the region. This will include installations in Birmingham, Coventry, and Wolverhampton. A further £25m of backing for the programme could be made available in due course.

“The mayor and WMCA remain hugely ambitious in the digital leadership space. Digital is at the core of our Industrial Strategy, our skills programme, plans for public service reform, and for regional infrastructure and growth,” the spokesperson added. “Our focus in terms of leadership has therefore shifted into delivering on these ambitions – which means embedding digital capability across the combined authority’s teams and functions. The 5G proposition is a central part of this – we will build a team that can help realise the value of the UCC programme and beyond.”

In addition to the 5G work and the industrial strategy, the West Midlands Digital Skills Partnership – which brings together WMCA leaders with representatives of education institutions and tech firms, including Amazon and Cisco – met for the first time in December.

Members of WMCA’s existing digital leadership team include director of productivity and skills Julie Nugent, who is leading work on skills, and director of strategy Julia Goldsworthy, who is overseeing the industrial strategy. Director of public service reform Henry Kippin is leading the 5G rollout – for which a dedicated team is also being assembled. Next month a secondee will join the authority to spearhead its digital services and GovTech work.

David Maclean, chief executive of online learning platform Packt, serves as chair of the WMCA digital board on a pro bono basis.

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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