CCN Conference, Knowledge Exchange and Smart Staffordshire

I attended the County Councils’ Network (CCN) Conference last week, and rounded it off with a day discussing Smart Cities with representatives from the UK, Germany and France.  The CCN event was refreshingly upbeat, given the challenges that we all are facing, with a real determination to get through.  This was my fourth CCN conference, and they seem to get better every year, with very engaged speakers and higher attendance.  Finances remain the number one issue, but there is just a sense that there is some light at the end of the tunnel.  We await the detail from the Autumn Statement, due on 6 December, but the extra money for social care and highways will certainly help – let’s hope that we are successful in getting a Business Rates Retention Pilot.

I attended a session with other county chief executives at which we agreed to form an online Knowledge Exchange in which we can exchange best practice.  We will lead the implementation from Staffordshire, and I am looking for a facility in which we can swap best practice and seek advice from other practitioners.  The Army started a very successful version during the operations in Afghanistan, which allowed units in theatre to share experiences and seek advice from a wider, but secure, community; the upshot was a much improved and rapid lessons learned process.  If we can achieve that, I would be delighted.

I’m very glad that we published our MTFS early, as it has allowed us to start the discussions with partners early.  There are, as we all are aware, some very difficult measures to implement in our plan, and we will need to bring people with us on what will, at times, be a hard journey.  The evening that Philip Atkins and I spent with the elected members of South Staffordshire District Council was enormously useful in setting the context and seeking their views.  We are discussing similar sessions with a number of other districts and boroughs, which is very encouraging.

Lastly, a footnote on Smart Staffordshire, our version of a smart city.  We appear to be up with the leaders of the pack in our thinking, and our offer is quite unusual, if not unique.  In essence, we are working towards producing as many of the advantages of smart living in a city, but in a mixed urban, suburban and rural setting.  My fellow delegates found our focus on people being enabled to live better lives in a digital world innovative and compelling; many still focus on the technology rather than the people who will use it.  There were some fascinating discussions, including one led by a German technologist who painted a very different and attractive version of retail in our high streets, which is possible now, but which is yet to be taken up.  Clearly, this is a rapidly moving area, and our role is to make it possible for residents and businesses.

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