As part of The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) new digital roadmap, unlocking regional potential is at the top of the priority list. Quadrant Smart sits down with Adam Hawksbee, Head of Policy at Combined Authority, to discuss how the West Midlands can become the Uk’s best-connected region and how it can help combat digital exclusion.
The new roadmap has recently published a strategy lasting until 2026. It includes measures on how to boost public health, boost local connectivity and includes a datastore plan.
TechUK’s December 2020 report on digital technology and the way it can support the West Midlands made three recommendations. They were:
- Work together to strengthen local digital capital
- Use digital to accelerate local growth opportunities
- Launch local innovation challenges to tackle urgent problems
Using 5G, WMCA is hopeful that they can be the best-connected city in the UK by 2026. Their key plans are around making sure there is public sector coordination in the 5G infrastructure development.
Expansive regional benefits of the digital economy
In the section that referred to ways in which local people in the region can benefit from a digital economy, there was an expansive description of these advantages. Adam Hawksbee told Quadrant Smart: “Digital technology is a real enabler for solving some of the tricky challenges that have existed in this region and across the country for a long time.”
He went on to explain that the two main benefits include improved health care and positive environmental impacts. Firstly, “The West Midlands has an ambitious net-zero target of 2041. We are focusing on leveraging digital technology to get there.” To do this, WMCA is actively supporting “firms that work on climate technologies or platforms that help us reduce waste and carbon emissions.”
The West Midlands has an ambitious net-zero target of 2041
In terms of benefits for health services in the region, Adam informed Quadrant Smart: “ For some time we have wanted to tackle and address the significant health inequalities in the region, thereby geography, ethnicity, age, gender and there is a role for digital to play in that.”
“We are working with parts of the NHS and directors of public health to explore what things like digital diagnostic hubs might be able to do. That would be diagnostic centres in key sites across the region that would help identify illnesses early and work towards prevention, but also how we can leverage health data,” he added.
Addressing the elephant in the room- digital exclusion
Digital exclusion is an issue that is dominating the narrative around 5G infrastructure. techUK highlighted this within their recommendations. Adam told Quadrant Smart that connecting different projects can help tackle exclusion.
He said: “Although there were a lot of projects happening in the region, they weren’t necessarily learning from one another or well connected. Some fantastic projects are happening in the region, but there is more we can do by learning from different device recycling schemes, voucher schemes, programmes in schools. There is more we can do by joining them up.”