Long-standing Socitm member David Hopkins has become mayor of Milton Keynes, after nearly 40 years in local government. Read more.
Councillor Hopkins attended his first Socitm conference in the late 1990s when working for telecoms company Mercury, getting involved with the organisation through Bob Griffith, former head of IT services at Northamptonshire County Council. He recently stepped down as secretary of Socitm’s East region.
As deputy mayor, Hopkins opened Socitm’s annual conference last year in Milton Keynes. In his welcome speech, Hopkins described Milton Keynes as the most successful of all the UK’s post-war new towns with a current population of 260,000 and a target of 400,000 by 2050, with ambitious plans to use technology in this expansion. “In Milton Keynes, MK Smart is a live deployment of multiple smart city applications, which are being collectively designed to make tangible improvements to public service delivery, business innovation and citizen engagement,” he told the event.
MK Smart hopes to cut water use by 20%, energy use by 3% and traffic congestion by half. The MK Data Hub already publishes a wide range of open data, include traffic using the city’s roundabouts; the locations and passenger numbers on of buses; and usage data for its neighbourhood recycling centres. Socitm has published guides to such work on smart places and location intelligence.
Hopkins was deputy leader between 2011 and 2014 when the Conservative group led the council and more recently served as chair of the overview and scrutiny management committee. The mayor must be apolitical, but Hopkins says that the parties agree on Milton Keynes’ growth plans and the smart technology needed to support it, and he will be promoting the work at events this year.
Milton Keynes has several advantages in adopting technology, he says: “Because we’re growing so fast, we can fit infrastructure that supports our smart city credentials,” such as high capacity broadband. “To retrofit is a very expensive thing to do.” It can also take advantage of communications infrastructure such as ducting fitted by BT during the 1990s.
Last October Milton Keynes hosted autonomous vehicle trials run by University of Oxford spin-out company Oxbotica, and the UK’s Transport Systems Catapult innovation centre is based in the town. The council is hoping to introduce an autonomous vehicle service running from the train station to the main shopping areas by the end of this year.
Hopkins says Socitm is good at bringing together suppliers and customers to the benefit of both. “There’s always a natural suspicion on both sides,” he says. “The suppliers only want to come to conferences to sell us stuff – which they do – and from the suppliers, that they will talk to no end of IT managers who aren’t really interested because they’ve got their set deals in place.”
But Socitm groups allow both sides to discuss issues and co-operate, such as through councils trialling a supplier’s products: “Working with Socitm, you can be the test-bed for new technologies free of charge.” Hopkins adds: “I think the suspicion between both sides has broken down now, and people are genuinely keen on working together and making a difference.”