LGA Digital Connectivity Programme: prospectus

Invitation to apply for funding to build your council’s skills and capacity to take advantage of the opportunities offered by connectivity to your local place and communities.


Purpose

Councils are invited to apply for funding from the Local Government Association (LGA) for projects focused on enhancing the digital connectivity (both mobile and broadband) of local areas and leveraging those improvements in aid of supporting the various facets of recovery to help residents and the workforce to interact with the local authority in smarter, easier and more innovative ways.

Councils recognise the importance of fast and reliable digital connectivity to local communities, economies and the delivery of public services. The variety in the quality and coverage of digital connectivity across the country has seen councils implement policies and projects in response to local challenges, whether improving current 4G coverage across a rural area, planning for the future of 5G and full fibre across an urban city centre, or simply enhancing the current support offered to the workforce, organisation and residents in the evolving covid-19 situation. In recognition of this, this funding is available to all councils whatever the extent or quality of their coverage, experience or knowledge. We welcome a range of transformative proposals as well as those focused on capacity building.

Applicants will need to evidence:

a) How the project will work to improve connectivity experienced by communities, the council workforce and/or businesses and what resource is required to achieve this?

b) Provide a breakdown of the projected spending of both the LGA and council match funding needed to accomplish your project objectives.

c) How the project will be aligned with wider strategies and policies councils and other regional institutions have on digital transformation, innovation and connectivity?

d) How each council will measure the impact of improved connectivity and what savings and benefits are expected to be made under your proposal?

e) How you will involve users in the project to ensure the initiative is empowering and meets their needs?

f) How this project will be sustainable beyond the period of initial funding?

g) That the project has corporate and member support?

h) How will the learning be transferrable to other councils?

We are keen to receive applications from groups of councils across border points or involving strategic partner organisations from both the private and third sector. Applications are limited to one per council, including where a council is a partner in a joint bid. Successful bids need to thoroughly engage with users and robustly demonstrate the impact of the project, as well as build evidence of the impact, and thereafter will work with the LGA to capture the learning, benefits and any assets developed to be shared with the sector.

Background

Access to fast and reliable digital connectivity is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity. It is a component of everyday life and is something residents and businesses expect in their homes and local areas. The emergence of Covid-19 has only accelerated the need for strong connectivity and innovative digital transformation to deal with the increased demand on networks.

As place shapers at the centre of their communities, councils across all tiers have a fundamental role to play in helping enhance the digital connectivity of their local areas. Whether through local policy levers such as planning and highways, or economic development or regeneration strategies with digital an integral enabler, all councils need to be considering their role in the future of their communities’ connectivity.

Nationally, the Government has made digital infrastructure a priority, and is focussed on how best to secure the next generation of connectivity, whether through gigabit capable broadband or 5G. In response, many areas are considering what the future of place looks like in a 5G and full-fibre enabled world.

In other parts of the country, local areas, often with topological and sparsity challenges, are still battling to connect communities left behind by today’s digital infrastructure. At present, 610,000 homes and businesses in the UK cannot access a decent broadband connection.[1] Access to mobile coverage also suffers only 67 per cent of UK landmass receiving 4G coverage from all operators.[2]

And now the growing impact of covid-19 is solidifying digital connectivity as the key driver of business continuity for residents needing to work from home, contact friends and family or stabilise and continue some form of normality. Workforces and organisations are more reliant than ever on a decent network connection.  

The benefits of improved connectivity are well rehearsed. As more of us use faster broadband and mobile services we have more choice about how and when to make voice and video calls, message friends and relatives, browse the internet, watch on-demand TV, stream music, play games, do shopping or work from home.

With better connected residents and employees, councils can create environments to test and develop innovative technologies and services to improve the lives of their communities while modernising ways of working and living.

It is equally important for businesses too. Research by the Federation of Small Businesses found that 94 per cent of small business owners rate a reliable broadband connection as critical to the success of their business.

This programme aims to support councils, at whatever stage of their digital connectivity journey, to enhance and leverage the connectivity of residents and employees. It will aim to fund a range of projects across different service areas and then share the learning with the sector to mainstream and reuse this learning in other councils.


[1] Connected Nations Ofcom 2019

[2] Connected Nations Ofcom 2019

How this offer benefits councils

  • Councils are in a unique place to harness broadband and mobile connectivity but often do not have the confidence or experience of how to navigate this marketplace. We can assist self-contained strategic projects around place and connectivity to encourage innovation and learning for councils to embrace smarter ways of working to provide services for staff, residents and the local community/economy. This would cement councils as an integral part in this next crucial evolution of everyday life enabled through connectivity.
  • Despite massive swaths of government funding that has and will be announced in the following months, the roll out and distribution of this money is often slow to reach some parts of the country. This is where this fund could enable the development of understanding and knowledge for the arrival of infrastructure that could last for the foreseeable future. It should not be used to supplement wider government funding pots. For instance, if we can assist a council to pilot connectivity proposals through this funding it could put them in an advantageous position for the next phase of full fibre roll out or allocation of government funding.  
  • This fund can act as a catalyst fund to evidence the worth of a potential saving area – within one of our digital inclusion programme projects the investment the LGA provided has unlocked the potential for the council to shift over 50% of customer calls through the funded voice bot.
     
  • There is also a point around knowledge sharing within the sector to disseminate lessons learnt about expanding connectivity programmes.

Application Process

Each bid will be able to apply for up to £20,000 of funding with councils expected to match fund any funding received from the LGA. This funding should not be used on existing projects where other external funding streams have been contributed to.

Application will be welcomed from 12 October 2020 for funding (one bid per LA/ Group of councils) from English councils (funding will only be awarded to English local authorities; however, bids involving partner organisations are welcomed). Application period will conclude on 12 November.

Please follow this link to submit an application: Digital Connectivity Application

Successful applications will be notified by the end of November 2020

With the first Connectivity cohort session and onboarding calls in January 2021.

Measuring the impact and learning of the programme

The LGA will work with the council(s) to achieve a cost saving of £3:£1 ratio while also identifying other benefits to staff, residents and the local community. Furthermore, the team will work with councils to produce case studies of each project and find opportunities for participants to speak and share the learning and impact of the project to the wider sector. Under this programme products and learning will be made open source and disseminated within the sector.

Appendix A

Existing Best Practice Examples for reference

Norfolk County Council / Cambridge County Council – Independent Benchmarking of Mobile Connectivity Mapping by 8-10 councils across England to inform policy decisions and high-level discussions with local operators. Over 25 councils have expressed interest to the LGA in conducting similar exercises.

Wigan Council – Smart city initiative (The Deal 2030) to support the vision of becoming a digital place. Combining with GMCA to expand the penetration of full fibre coverage so citizens have better access to Wi-Fi. This work enabled adult social care delivery innovating how they interact with residents on a day to day basis. With increased connectivity it also benefitted the quick transference of data in smart homes to reduce energy consumption in social housing saving money for residents and impacting on climate emergency aims.

Wirral Council – Telephony network channel shift 100k savings identifying inactive lines with channel shifts made due to covid-19

Huntingdonshire District Council – BYOD (Bring your own device proposal)

Essex Superfast Broadband Programme – Work completed on an interactive connectivity mapping exercise for the council, private sector and also residents about to provide understanding in the gaps in connectivity.

Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole Council – Smart Place Pilot – In December 2019, BCP’s cabinet approved a pilot to offer businesses and new start-ups the opportunity to develop 5G-enabled machines and applications through a high-tech fibre optic testbed and increase Wi-Fi connectivity speeds. Applications they are considering are around traffic management, empowering social care processes, real time information to address the climate change emergency and NHS emergency diagnoses.

Angus Council - Radio connectivity project – An initiative to connect rural schools and council locations, businesses and business parks providing robust, resilient and affordable broadband connectivity. They have successfully rolled out to 6 schools, 2 business parks and numerous council corporate locations to improve learning and commercial opportunities while enabling an agile workforce.

Sunderland – Our Smart City – The council have recently launched a high level pilot of ultrafast 5G ready Wi-Fi zones within two public city locations along with infrastructure around a primary school and two tower blocks to improve access for residents to learn new digital skills to use in their day to day lives.

Salford City Council – Digital Salford – In November 2019 Salford launched a digital strategy in conjunction with a Smart City Accelerator in Media City. This is in line with the drive in Salford to become a digital council that focuses on leaving no one behind. Whether it be the online SMS text messaging service or the touch down ‘Scan Zones’ for residents to digitise documents for government processes they have really embraced a smarter way of working where 5G capability is proving to be a real asset.

Adur and Worthing Council – Waste Transportation Connectivity Mapping – The digital team launched an initiative to install connectivity mapping technology to bin lorries in order to map the geography of the borough on a weekly basis. This mapping gave the council an overview of blackout spots enabling them to use this effectively live information to lobby mobile providers to improve coverage in the area.

Cambridgeshire County Council - The Smart Places Initiative – Smart Places is the term used to describe a village, town or city using data and emerging technology to address common local challenges in areas such as transport, connectivity and air quality.