“Places thrive when they successfully connect people, resources and opportunities to one another. From stone bridges to smart ticketing on the London underground, street lights to skyscrapers, new and emerging technologies have always been at the forefront of enabling ever greater levels of connectivity. Innovative businesses and pioneering place leaders, with the right support and encouragement, can develop and deploy the latest technology to boost local productivity and wellbeing, attract talent and improve access to economic opportunities.
With Western productivity in the doldrums, an ageing society and a climate emergency underway, we urgently need a new wave of innovations to help us decarbonise our towns and cities, support people to live well independently, and jump start new levels of economic activity.
Luckily, the UK is well-served by brilliant businesses and amazing academics who have the talent we need to rise to the grand challenges of today. Getting such innovations into action is not easy, however. Innovators in both the public and private sectors face an array of hurdles, from the structural (e.g. heavily constrained public budgets and innovation-stifling regulation) to the cultural (e.g. poor understanding among buyers of what is possible, poor understanding among suppliers of what is actually needed, and risk-averse public sector commission cultures).
This is where the Connected Places Catapult comes in.
Our mission is to help UK businesses address the Grand Challenges of today to create connected places fit for the future. To do that:
- We help place leaders explore how new technologies and approaches can deliver better services, solutions and outcomes for citizens and communities, fostering demand.
- We help UK firms understand the real needs of customers in this market and develop solutions that can be replicated from one place to the next, improving the quality of supply.
- And we stimulate innovation in areas resistant to change, building collaborations across traditional services and silos to open new commercial opportunities for firms and spill over benefits for UK Plc.
What does that mean in practice? Well, just to give you a snapshot of some of our recent activities:
- Having pioneered the testing of autonomous vehicles on public land, we are now helping to create connected and autonomous vehicles that integrate with our human environment (rather than changing our places to work better for robots)
- We have worked with industry partners to demonstrate the potential for connected hybrid vehicles that switch from petrol to electric engines within dynamic clear air zones, based on real-time air quality data – and we’re also working with government agencies to manage the cyber risk of connected vehicles, infrastructure and other built assets
- We kick-started a digital revolution in the UK’s planning system, harnessing data and digital tools to give the development sector a much needed C21st upgrade, unlocking new sites, levelling the playing field for smaller builders, delivering meaningful public engagement with planning proposals, and founding in a whole new sector for the UK to sell to the world – PlanTech
- We are now expanding our work on land-use planning into transport planning to join up these often disconnected professions, whose efforts are essential to the good functioning of our places – as Exchequer Secretary Robert Jenrick said recently, boosting productivity is about tackling the little things that might life frustrating for ordinary working people. Better planned places work better for people and the economy.
- Building on that success in planning, we are now launching a similar venture to stimulate creative disruption in housing – from smart tech for independent living, to tackling the barriers currently blocking deep retrofit at scale, reducing the environmental impact of our homes.
- We have work with scientists and built environment professionals to look at how cutting-edge research inneuroscience can be applied to the design of work places and public spaces to deliver, for example, more successful High Streets, age-friendly, inclusive communities and more productive office environments.
- Moving from physical connectivity to digital connectivity, our Action Learning Network which also launches today is a coalition of pioneering places who are seeking to take a lead on the roll-out of next-gen 5G digital infrastructure in their areas, who recognise the transformative potential of such technology and want to harness it to deliver better services, experiences and outcomes for their citizens and visitors. We are excited to be able to facilitate this exciting example of diverse places coming together across differences in geography to solve shared problems and create a viable market for businesses to serve.
- Through our close partnership with the Dept for Transport we have been working closely with officials to consider questions about the use and applications of drones, including developing the concept of a Highway Code for Drones to enable commercial opportunities whilst ensuring the air above us doesn’t become as congested and dangerous as our roads.
- Recognising the procurement is often seen to be a barrier to innovation, we are working with our strategic partners the Society for Local Authority Chief Executives and the Public Sector Transformation Academy, and new friends at the Federation of Small Businesses, CBI and the British Services Association to challenge the myths around public procurement and support place leaders to use procurement confidently as a tool, not a barrier, to the delivery of innovative solutions.
- And we have supported British firms to showcase and scale their innovations overseas, throughs projects across Europe, Brazil, China, India and the UAE.
Just as our places are the result of complex interactions between public, private and civil actors, so too the solutions to the problems our places face demand cross-sector collaboration. That is the space in which we operate as a Catapult – and this new All-Party Parliamentary Group will enable even greater levels of collaboration and creative problem solving across private and public sectors.
At our pre-launch event we began to capture the themes the Group felt should be prioritised and the issues it needed to consider. That input has been fed in and forms the basis of the nascent work plan for the Group.
Finally, on that theme, we are also looking for a select number of larger firms to join us as industry partners, who will take a leading role supporting our esteemed Parliamentary members by helping shape the agenda of the APPG, the themes and issues we will prioritise and the research we commission.We are determined that this Group be more than a thrice annual networking event, but rather an engine that drives informed decisions, tangible change, and positive impact for businesses and customers alike.”
To find out more about how to become such a partner, click here or fill out the form below to be kept in informed about future APPG activities: