Northern Powerhouse: Policy Exchange says devolved cities need geeks overseeing data analytics offices

Lauren Fedor
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Policy Exchange says major cities need official data centres (Source: Getty)

An influential think tank wants to require cities with devolved powers to recruit “geeks” to oversee data analytics programmes, as another leading research group says successful devolution will require more than just new infrastructure projects.

In a new paper out today, Policy Exchange said that elected mayors should have to set up data analytics offices comprising of “small, expert teams tasked with using public and privately held data to create smarter and more productive cities”.

The think tank said most cities “have vast quantities of data that if accessed and used effectively could help improve public services, optimise transport routes, support the growth of small businesses and even prevent cycling accidents”.

“Data will be fundamental to the success of city devolution and smarter cities. Yet most cities lack the ability to join up, analyse and act upon the vast quantities of data they already have,” Eddie Copeland, the report’s author, said. “With 80 per cent of Brits residing in urban areas and the population of our cities ever increasing, it is vital that our cities become smarter to cope with growing pressures on public services, transport and housing.”

The Policy Exchange paper comes one day after Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) held a summit in Leeds calling for a “Great North Plan that is about more than improved transport”.

“Up until now, much of the emphasis in [Northern] Powerhouse circles has been on transport connectivity,” said IPPR North director Ed Cox. “But most people recognise that a transport plan alone is not sufficient to drive economic growth in the north. There are other economic issues that lend themselves to pan-northern planning – energy, water, innovation, our rural areas and recreational assets.”

Commercial secretary to the Treasury Lord O’Neill, a former Goldman Sachs economist, said: “We agree that the Northern Powerhouse is about a number of things, of which transport connectivity is highly important, but far from the only thing, and that’s why, along with devolved powers, we’re investing in science, skills, culture and other important areas to make our ambition to pool the strengths of the north a reality.”

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