O2 today announced the launch of its Future Fund, a new initiative to help forward thinking councils get to grips with new methods of engaging their staff, citizens and communities. The Future Fund will support ICT teams within local authorities, by enabling them to bring to life ideas and projects where they believe technology innovation could drive positive change in surrounding communities, or the ways in which its employees work. Successful local authorities applying for the scheme will be awarded access to a combination of O2 consultancy time, services and technology to help them turn their project ideas from a vision, to a practical reality.
The Future Fund will formally open its doors for applications on 25 April, 2012 and is comprised of three grant funding packages up to the value of £125,000, £75,000 and £50,000.
The launch event on 25 April, with over 60 councils attending from across the UK, is focused on local councils developing ideas and services against three broad themes: reducing cost and improving efficiencies; finding new ways of engaging with citizens; and empowering the community to do more for itself. Each of these topics points to more effective service delivery, by empowering staff or by expanding the concept of ‘self-service’.
To support the launch, O2 will be showcasing 17 different parts of its business, each with their own unique slant on the digital age. From well-established technologies such as wi-fi and M2M (machine to machine), to ‘people’ skills, social media expertise, mobile advertising and location based services – right through to business engagement and apps development. Councils will then be able to pick which selection of services to use to build their idea and weave into their bid.
Ben Dowd, Director of Business at O2 commented: “O2 believes that the right application of technology has the potential to drive real change and our findings through our work with local government ICT departments support this belief. What is different is that the Future Fund will give a glimpse of what is possible with a bit of imagination and we will support the winning bids by providing investment in their IT infrastructure coupled with resource and expertise. So it is up to the councils to determine how it can be applied to their own council, citizens or community, ultimately giving local government the ability to really shape their own destiny in a project they are passionate about.”
The Future Fund has been created as a result of O2’s Local Government Futures Forum, which aims to understand what the role of ICT should be in modernising councils in challenging times. As technology advances at a rapid pace, with people creating and consuming data in more diverse and immediate ways, councils face a challenge to use these channels to demonstrate communications nous and engage with their communities like never before. In one of the most extensive projects of its kind, O2 undertook a significant consultation exercise working with senior officers and members from local authorities across the UK to identify the most significant ICT challenges facing councils today.
Findings from the consultation exercise illustrated that the widespread budget cuts across the public sector have resulted in an expected automatic squeeze on resource, with mounting pressure across all departments to operate more efficiently. With this ongoing pressure to lower spending, council decision makers are naturally opting for solutions that deliver an immediate impact – cutting services, and in turn cost, rather than looking at ways of adapting them, whilst ICT department face an uphill struggle to retain and control their destinies, often competing for de-centralised budgets across multiple teams with no place or input at a board level.
Despite this, ICT departments remain undeterred. Although 70 per cent said they see budget and resources as a significant blocker, research findings showed that teams across the country are bursting with ideas on how technology can be used to maintain services, deliver better cost-efficiency and improve citizen and community engagement – demonstrating a strong desire by these departments to rise to the challenge.
Neil Prior, head of local government for O2 commented, “Throughout our consultation we discovered a real passion to embrace technology and what is could deliver. This extended from chief executives to council members. ICT really does have the ability to transform local government, at O2 we want to ensure that in difficult times we step up and help to provide some of the expertise and technology that can help to drive that change and act as an example for others.”
Applications will be judged by a panel of experts from O2 and independent parties. Councils will have eight weeks to develop and deliver their ideas, before selection takes place later this year.