The South West plays a key role in ensuring the UK’s public sector functions effectively. The region is home to some of the nation’s most important service providers, including HMRC, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Met Office, not to mention 36 local councils.
Like many private companies, these organisations are increasingly turning to technology to provide better, more efficient services which deliver better value to citizens. One of the most important digital tools that public bodies are now looking to utilise to design, deliver and transform services is the vast amounts of data they hold.
The information that public sector organisations have is huge both in terms of scale and potential and, if used in the right way, could help identify and tackle a range of internal and external challenges. These include taking a preventative approach to health and social care, homelessness and debt management, allowing staff to flag cases of concern before they become critical, and expensive to remedy.
However, being able to effectively handle data is not an easy process. In many cases, the public sector, in the South West and across the UK, does not have the capabilities or expertise to pool and analyse large data sets, either due to lacking people with the right skills to do so or not having access to platforms that can help them to collect, extract and use this information to identify trends and solutions.
With the public sector struggling to utilise data and the South West being home to a range of these organisations, this provides a huge opportunity for the region, both in terms of creating jobs and bringing in investment.
If public bodies require people and platforms to help them better use their data, they are going to need access to a workforce and businesses that understand how to use this information and can provide them with the tools to do so. At the same time, if they know that a region of the country is developing the people and firms that have these capabilities, they are more likely to look to base themselves in that area, rather than somewhere that can’t provide them with the tools they need, creating more jobs and opportunities for local people.
This is where councils and businesses in the South West should be looking to take advantage. The region is already home to a range of highly specialised firms and people with technical skills, but if we want to further enhance its data capabilities to meet the needs of the public sector, acting now and laying the right foundations is key.
Councils should look to work with technology businesses, education and training providers to develop programmes that allow local people to learn important data and technological skills. Through creating these educational frameworks, those in the region starting their careers, as well as people looking for a change of role, can develop the knowledge and expertise to provide public bodies with the workforce they need to effectively manage data sets and implement the right solutions.
These are well paid, highly skilled jobs that could provide swathes of the local population with a chance to upskill and advance their careers, while also giving businesses and public sector organisations access to highly skilled employees, further attracting public bodies, private firms and investment into the region.
However, while training and skill development is important, the focus shouldn’t just be on creating a new data workforce for public bodies, but also on upskilling people who already work in these organisations.
This is where digital partners to the public sector have an important role to play. Providers shouldn’t see data projects as simply a case of implementing a new platform and then leaving an organisation to its own devices. They need to be working with their public sector partners to upskill staff during a project to understand how a data solution works and how to drive value from the information it holds and uses. This will help create a thriving, technologically savvy public sector in the South West, benefitting local councils, national bodies and services across the UK, while positioning the region as a hub of data excellence that public organisations will want to utilise.
The South West has huge potential to be a leader in public technology and data. Through collaboration with the private sector and providing education and training, we can help foster a thriving, tech-focused public sector in the region that brings with it both jobs and economic prosperity.