(Service Director (Community and Partnership Services)) To consider the attached report.
The Chairman of Essex & Herts Digital Innovation Zone (DIZ), Councillor A Lion advised that the Council had become involved in DIZ through the expansion and funding received from the Government, which had provided superfast broadband to the rural areas of the District reaching up to 99.67% households.
The Council wished to expand and capitalise on the digital opportunity, therefore the DIZ was expanded out to the catchment area of the Princess Alexander Hospital. Initial investigations looked into the opportunities for public services to use digital services to transform service delivery, improve efficiency and provide a more joined-up service for the customer. In addition, partners were looking at how infrastructure investment could help future-proof local economic success and to make this area a strong choice for job retention and growth. The DIZ comprised of five district council areas including Epping Forest, Harlow, Uttlesford, East Hertfordshire and Broxbourne along with partners from various public bodies including the health, economy, County Council, higher education, business and the voluntary and community sector.
The Strategic Partnerships Manager advised that the DIZ had significantly raised the profile and the understanding of the current and future digital economy in this area and had pioneered a truly multi-agency, multi-area, multi-sector approach to digital innovation and integration. The partnership had successfully worked in several areas which included;
· Jointly commissioning a strategic long-term overarching strategy to focus work;
· Bidding for external funds on the understanding that collective bidding opened opportunities to access funds that partners would not access individually such as LGA/ Design Council, DCMS LFFN programme;
· Researching potential applications across various geographies – Open Data Source, Common Assets Register, Town Centre Wi-fi;
· Bringing the widest range of stakeholders and partners together for masterclasses on different aspects of the digital revolution;
· Coordinated and jointly supported the delivery of Superfast Broadband across the geography including enhanced investment; and
· Establishing consensus on the importance of digital as a core, enabling platform for all the partners in delivery of their services and serving the future needs of residents and businesses.
A Digital Innovation Strategy for DIZ had been completed, setting out long-term ambitions and an understanding of the area’s current and future digital strengths and challenges in an over-arching combined digital plan. Endorsement was being sought from all the DIZ partners and the strategy document would be a key element of any future bids for external funding and form part of the key information to be sent to digital businesses looking to expand or relocate into the area.
The Digital Innovation Zone would be well placed to fully engage with the Government’s new industrial strategy and help shape how local partners individually and collectively responded to the digital challenge. It was intended that, once adopted, a high-profile launch event would be delivered to further raise the identity, visibility and positioning of the DIZ and promote the strategy to Government and key industry stakeholders.
The Committee enquired how this strategy would become more locally involved and improve the high street for residents. The Strategic Partnerships Manager advised that the high street market was a changing and was a challenging environment, although the strategy would be used to encourage and assist small and medium businesses to become more competitive and bring customers back to the high street.
The Committee queried whether the residents who were not covered by the superfast broadband had any type of internet connection. Councillor A Lion advised that around 200 homes were currently unable to receive the superfast broadband, although with the provisions for 5G services through mobile networks was being developed and it was hoped that they would be eventually captured.
That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommends and endorses the Essex and Herts Digital Innovation Zone ‘Digital Innovation Strategy’ to Cabinet.