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Liverpool City Region (LCR) digital infrastructure & skills needs questionnaire

November 21, 2016, Written by 0 comment

IX Liverpool were asked to complete a questionnaire commissioned by the Liverpool Local Enterprise Partnership, this is our response:

  1. What, if any, are the gaps in the LCR’s existing digital infrastructure?

a. Liverpool has a lack of fibre connectivity, the existing (non-council) fibre is owned by the current incumbents, who don’t want others to use it unless they pay a high price. This, compounded by the high price in digging up roads means that digitally, Liverpool is behind most UK cities and will suffer as consequence as the UK digital economy grows and takes many jobs outside of the city. We have already seen a handful of businesses move away from the city to the likes of Manchester, taking with them well paid jobs while depriving the area of skills through a “brain drain”.

b. Lack of an internet exchange, all of the internet in Liverpool comes through London, if there is an event in London that effects the internet, it will affect Liverpool, so we need to be independent and away from London, establishing our own identity as Liverpool the brand, physically and digitally. You cannot blame businesses when they won’t move jobs to Liverpool when the connectivity is in London, hence why we need to build it first, that is what IX Liverpool is wanting to do.

c. Lack of transatlantic access (internet), we need to bring the hibernia transatlantic submarine cable into Liverpool, it’s a small cost for a potentially large reward.

d. We don’t have a digitally integrated government, they could be using technology to help reduce costs significantly, while adding real value to citizens who elect the parties who run them in the first place. A good example is myself and my fellow directors, willing to give the council free advice, support and see a digital agenda through, without remuneration or expected return, it felt that our offer of doing the required work for free only served to devalue the offer.  The council has a lot of local homegrown talent that would love to get involved and help it become more efficient that it could call on if it wanted.

 

  1. What is required to plug those gaps and enable the LCR to compete on an even footing with other highly competitive UK City Regions and/or global cities?

a. Better, faster, higher quality and cheaper internet access (as below)

b. A local internet exchange (as below)

c. Transatlantic internet access – we need to bring the Hibernia transatlantic submarine cable into Liverpool, it’s a small cost for a potentially large reward.

 

  1. What are the specific “transformational” digital infrastructure initiatives that, if delivered, could give the LCR a competitive advantage over other highly competitive UK City Regions and/or global cities in terms of attracting investment and realising growth across all sectors?

Community Owned Fibre Project – the city should come together with the community to lay its own independent fibre, owned by the council or a voluntary not for profit (like IX Liverpool), paid for by anyone who wishes to use it, and at discounted rate for the first 5 years in order to encourage competition and a range of innovative services.  The fibre could also connect the wider cities ambitions such as the smart city agenda, Wi-Fi on lampposts for visitors to the city and sensors for the Internet of Things. The council already owns this asset in the form of ducts which are already installed, it simply needs to provision the fibre and allow a community owned and operated company to run it, with its objects facing the community benefit and not greedy shareholders who wish to profit from the existing old copper networks, constraining choice, reducing the selection of available services while continuing to hold back Liverpool digitally.

The Provision of an Internet ExchangeLocal Internet exchanges help organisations and communities by improving quality, reliability and latency, and reducing dependency on other locations like London whilst allowing local users to handle traffic at a local level, giving many technological, economic and sociological benefits to society.

Right now, all of the internet in Liverpool comes through London, if there is an event in London that effects the internet, it will affect Liverpool, as result the city needs it’s own independence, establishing our own identity as Liverpool the brand, physically and digitally. You cannot blame businesses when they won’t move jobs to Liverpool when the connectivity is in London, hence why we need to build it first, that is what IX Liverpool is wanting to do.

Establishing an Internet of Things Network – Liverpool could be a leader in IOT against many other cities, and as a “challenger city” it would attract businesses and create jobs.  Sadly we lost out to a recent IOT bid due to lack of preparation and readiness, invoking a knee jerk reaction that resulted in the management agency getting cold feet and backing a different horse when they realised we were incapable of winning.  Next time, we need to be prepared, have our resources aligned and as a community, show how Liverpool can beat any competition out there.

We have ideas for many more, but too many to submit on this form.

 

  1. What are the specific digital skills gaps that need addressing for the LCR to be able to realise its growth potential across all key sectors?

 We believe that Liverpool is lacking many different types of important skills, these are:

  1. Programmers, (coders and designers)
  2. Data scientists, general engineers
  3. Infrastructure specialists
  4. Automation and Internet of Things Specialists
  5. Good managers/Lack of people with good leadership skills

Separately, we need a Brexit Task Group, helping businesses and organisations deal with the impending issues of Brexit, while helping local businesses come together and share ideas, contacts and knowledge regarding future survival and changing our focus to externally looking, developing export skills and experience as many SME’s in Liverpool don’t export their products/services and would not know how to go about doing so.

 

5. What are the obstacles to achieving all of the above, and what needs to be done to overcome these?

LCC – It’s good that Liverpool City Council recognise that the lack of digital connectivity is having an impact in the region, and have recently opened a tender for organisations to tender for use of the LCC’s street level ducts, however, we believe this is counter intuitive and as LCC seem to be focused on “sweating the council’s assets” so the bid is likely to be awarded to the highest bidder rather than the best for our community. We believe this short sightedness will only serve to exacerbate the situation we face, especially given that it is a 5 year fixed contract, potentially putting us back another 5 years, a decision that has been taken with deep regret by the digital community. Ultimately it looks like LCC are about to make a terrible mistake that will hold back the region for many more years to come, despite our efforts to advise them otherwise.

Lack of Representation – The city has a lack of representation from inventors, makers and engineers. For example the BBC recently reported that Liverpool has more tech jobs than Cambridge (20k vs 19k), stating that four in every 100 jobs is in the digital community which is suspect. Talking with the digital community, it appears a lot of these numbers are counted from agencies (which Liverpool has a disportionate amount of) whereas Cambridge has lots of tech startups, and the latter requires more engineers and scientists. It appears that local board’s and groups are well represented by people from the agencies, but the inventors, engineers and makers are almost nowhere to be seen, and feel that they are without a voice or representation, many are barred or disregarded from high-profile boards for example in Non-Executive Director or advisory roles, and are hardly given the opportunity to be part of something substantial, something that is especially prevalent in the < 40 age group.

Fibre tax, the council want to charge it based on instructions from the valuation office.  Either the council need to find a way to waive it, or apply to the central government for financial assistance paying for it.  Without it, it will cripple any community fibre program, also the same with Co-operation on wayleaves from the council, without it, again it will be crippling the proposed plans.

Form filling Rewards –  There have been a number of tech community projects that have invited local companies to respond with solutions to problems, unfortunately though, these appear to reward form fillers than any credible end product/beneficial solution. One such business in the region has been very successful, taking millions in taxpayers money and enough to be able to afford a full time bid writer to continue to apply for more. Innovative projects need to have local input and community measurably so that the same old businesses who don’t deliver real community value win again and again, and the region needs input into these. The result is that very little invention or innovation comes out of these projects, and after speaking to many of these people, they feel there is little point to engage with these projects as the “usual suspects” always win (as they are simply better at filling in forms), whereas they are better at the invention and innovation, the latter being of the most benefit to civic society.

Good examples of successful practice include Silicon Valley, London Shoreditch and even Berlin style approaches, are still much better than the current offering for organisations here in Liverpool.

matt.wilson

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