A 21st Century revolution in public services will be led by digital and creative industries, a Conservative Party Conference fringe event heard.
Mobile phone apps listing up-to-the minute waiting times at A&E centres, restaurants which have failed health inspections, road repairs, or even land ownership are all being developed using local authority data.
While Birmingham City Council’s new call centre is set to offer details of thousands of telephone enquiries and complaints to digital media company Mudlark to convert into usable data.
The theory is that councils, health services, Government departments and other public sector organisations keep masses of data which they simply cannot process or put to good use, but a growing band of digital companies have the time and expertise to turn into a business opportunity or new public service.
The event, hosted by ScreenWM and attended by Culture and Creative Industries minister Ed Vaizey, heard that social networking media was providing the inspiration for new systems of sharing information on Safeguarding Children.
Philip Colligan of Nesta, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, said that until now social workers, police, GPs and schools had exchanged information on big clunky formal computer systems.
“Then they go home and exchange information in a much more efficient way on social network sites. We need to bring that into public services.”
He also talked about a ‘revolution of open data’ where the information needs to be released to cutting edge digital entrepreneurs like Mudlark and Maverick in Birmingham to turn into new services and business opportunities.
“I used to work in a housing department, we held a massive amount of data but could not do anything because we were too busy fixing leaks.
“We have the problem that local authorities are very worried about what people will do with that data, which comes after years of vexatious complaints and Freedom of Information Act requests. It has made them cautious, they are risk averse,” he said.
Nesta is cutting some of the bureaucracy by funding these projects to bypass laborious council procurement and tendering procedures.
Mudlark is currently working on the Civic Dashboard project with Birmingham City Council which will see them analyse the thousands of calls the council receives.
Toby Barnes said that they will know where the calls are coming from, the subjects, the areas and search for trends and find ways to help the council reduce complaints and place services.
But he warned that the differing cultures remain a problem with companies like Mudlark developing new projects on the go.
He said: “The local authority wants everything documented and planned in detail, with costings and benefits, but we get working.”
Matt Walsh of Maverick adds: “It is important people can take risks.”
Maverick is working on the NHS local project in collaboration with West Midlands health autorities. Projects include an
iPhone app which will allow people up-to-the-minute information on A&E waiting times, to enable users to move to another hospital if their local one is blocked.
While others include online appointment booking and improving ways to link patients, health professionals, charities and self-help groups.
Opening the discussion Ed Vaizey pointed out that the creative industries makes up eight per cent of the UK economy and is growing.
“It will be a very, very different world in 40 years time, already the iPhone and iPad has made a difference," he said.
“The digital world is changing the relationship between Government and citizen, it is much more of a conversation than a top down relationship.”