The recent launch of a new blueprint to transform and unify public sector digital teams across the public centres, coincided with the announcement of a new Government Digital Service (GDS) pop-up academy in the region and the expansion of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to create a new Digital Hub, which will see 100 civil servant tech roles positioned in Birmingham.
The series of announcements highlighted the shared will of Midlands’ public sector teams to position the region as the UK’s leading hub for public sector digital skills and services and its accelerating convergence – something that Jane Fallon, Head of Digital of the Office of the Public Guardian, says the region is ready to embrace and well positioned for.
“I think there are multiple reasons why the Midlands is well-placed for this sort of project. First of all, there are already a number of really successful teams based in the Midlands, but nobody knows about them because we tend to hide our light under a bushel! We have a great base to build on and we also have a great leader, for the West Midlands at least, in Andy Street.
“If you look at education stats we can also benefit from a wealth of talent that has led to a stack overflow. There are more developers here than anywhere else outside of London. There’s also a great supply of good, inexpensive accommodation in the region, which for many people, particularly those in central government, is very welcome when moving out of London in order to keep costs down.
“Add into the melting pot Birmingham City Council, which is one of the biggest in Europe, and the excellent neighbouring councils and you have the recipe for success.”
The need for collaboration
The blueprint will explore how digital services and collaboration can be improved across central and local government, national organisations and education providers and local suppliers. How does Jane see this playing out?
“When we set up the Public Sector Digital Midlands event to showcase the new blueprint and highlight the plans for the region, we knew there was a need to join up thinking and share knowledge. I think collaboration will happen in two areas.
“I used to work for the Government Digital Service (GDS) so was involved in central government. Then, when I moved back home when I had my twins I joined as Head of Digital for a local central government team in the Midlands. I was well aware there wasn’t much join up between central government teams and, in particular, between central and local government and emergency service teams based in the Midlands. The more you can share, the more people will benefit.
“The first event was really designed to say hello, here we are, can we all start working together and do you want to? The feedback showed that the appetite is clearly there. We’ll hopefully have two levels of activity coming out of that, which is a great start.”
Jane explains that the first collaboration will be very much at grassroots level. “The first is based around the OneTeamGov idea of teams working together. We’ve got buy-in, sponsorship and backup to put on a OneTeamGov Midlands event in the new year, which will give teams the opportunity to start working together. I also linked up with the heads of other digital teams at the launch event to see what we could do on a more granular level through secondments, sharing and hack events, to name just a few.
“At a more political level the ask will be to the likes of the GDS, Paul Maltby at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and possibly the West Midlands Combined Authority for investment and time. For example, we’ve got more students than anywhere else – can we put the pipeline in place to link local colleges with public sector organisations and suppliers in the Midlands? We really enjoyed having some students at the event from a college in Solihull who told us it was fantastic for them to hear about potential opportunities in the workplace. By connecting people, it can only help us to grow and, ultimately, improve our service delivery.”
Jane concludes by saying: “The more we can share between teams, be that people, codes or components so that we continue to deliver high quality public services, in the face of continuing pressures, the better. Our blueprint and our efforts are all about us stepping up and doing what we can in that space.”