The UK is on the verge of a distinct moment of local government innovation. UrbanTech – new digital technologies, provided by small, dynamic companies – has the potential to not only deliver faster, more user-centred local services for citizens, but can provide an important tool in easing the budgetary pressure councils are seeing grow year on year.
PUBLIC is a venture firm that supports tech startups looking to transform public services, both at the local and central government level. In this article, we pick out three startups who are already transforming the way councils provide for citizens.
In 2014, Google closed a $3.2 billion deal to purchase Nest Labs, a home automation company that manufactures sensors for self-learning thermostats and smoke detectors. Google’s acquisition not only provided a new source of important data, but also showed that there was demand from consumers for wired products in their homes. If it’s true for consumers, why not also for residents and landlords in the public sector housing?
Switchee, the first B2B thermostat, has successfully provided for large, social landlords including in Islington, Royal Borough of Greenwich, Bromford, Renfrewshire Council, Oxford City Council and Glasgow. In Oxford City Council, Switchee’s solution led to significant council savings.
Some of these savings have also been passed down to residents, who are able to control their energy consumption and reduce their energy spending. One resident in Oxford City Council had her annual fuel bill cut in half from £600 to just £300 a year. Switchee also enables landlords to use data from the thermostats to help identify potentially at risk elderly residents, find out earlier about vacant properties and give landlords advanced warning about boilers that are out of order.
As diverse and increasingly sophisticated channels of communication emerge through digital technology, local councils are now looking for new means to engage with their citizens. Mobile reporting tools and customer service dashboards are allowing an ever increasing flow of information between service users and service providers. The result is better informed citizens and councils with a greater understanding of their constituents wants and needs.
novoville is a citizen engagement platform. Citizens are provided with an app through which they can apply for services, report problems, and, most importantly, share their opinions. This information feeds through in real-time dashboard controlled by the council, allowing councillors to detect and solve problems quickly and efficiently, whilst seamlessly updating the citizen who has filed the report.
In addition to operating in 40 cities across Europe, novoville is about to embark on a three-month pilot with the West Midlands Combined Authority (a pilot they won through Urban Challenge - an open-call competition run by PUBLIC and the WMCA), as part of which they want to create a chatbot with startup Apptivism to engage local citizens via social media.
Planning for an uncertain future around children’s special education is a challenge many councils don’t feel ready to face. Should they be building new schools for special needs students, or investing in more teachers to keep students in mainstream classes? Should they be working with other councils to provide infrastructure? Considering that 1 in 100 people in the UK aged 4-26 are born with Autism, these are questions that face just about every council in the UK.
Mastodon C offers a potential resolution with their SEED model, a product that uses open source technology and council data to help councils learn the potential cost and number of children who may need to receive care. They are currently working with a London borough that was facing a series of challenges including rising rates of autism, helping them map out scenarios as far as 10 years into the future.
Their main differentiator is that they can also break down the data based on the severity of special needs and disabilities. This helps councils to make data-based decisions around investments in special needs education and avoid difficult scenarios such as having to send disabled or special needs children far away from their home due to a lack of capacity.
Are you a startup looking to transform government services? Applications for PUBLIC’s 6-month growth programme GovStart are currently open.
Want to learn more? Get in touch and set up a time to talk to a member of the GovStart team. Applications close April 30th.