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London Data Charter is key to letting capital ‘recover and thrive’

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The continued growth of the London Data Charter will be a crucial element of the capital’s economic, social and environmental recovery from Covid-19, according to a panel of experts.

Sophie Gray, UK director of data and artificial intelligence (AI) at Microsoft, said the UK and its capital faced several major challenges as they emerged from the pandemic. “But if we think about the pace of change we have seen in the last two years, we’ve actually seen some fantastic results - and sitting at the heart of that is data. It is one of our most strategic assets.”

Gray, who was speaking at London Tech Week last month, told the conference that the London Data Charter was helping businesses “see the value and the possibilities” offered by collaboration with London’s government. Drafted by experts at Pinsent Masons and London First last year, the charter encourages signatories to become “a part of London’s data ecosystem” by sharing data.

Calling on more firms to sign up to the charter, Gray said: “It’s not just about the data you already have. It’s about new data that can be created through new partnerships. So explore, be curious. We all want London to be a great place where businesses can recover and thrive post-pandemic – and opening up access to data will be key to achieving that.”

Chadwick Sue_November 2019

Dr Sue Chadwick

Strategic Planning Advisor

We knew we had to make the London Data Charter more than just some words on a page if people are going to use it in future

Chairing the event, Dr Sue Chadwick, strategic planning expert at Pinsent Masons, said ensuring the charter was “simple and short” had taken a great deal of work. “We knew we had to make this more than just some words on a page if people are going to use it in future,” she added. Signatories to the charter commit to seven basic principles, including to “protect privacy and security” and “delivery benefit for Londoners”

Chadwick said London First had already “lined up a really impressive array of signatories” that “demonstrate the charter’s principles in action”, adding that its potential would increase as more signed up. “It is only by hearing from everybody that we can develop something practical and that works for London as a whole,” she said.

The conference heard how data sharing between public and private sector organisations was already driving environmental changes in the capital. Grant Klein, public sector transport expert at PwC, said data sharing had enhanced the firm’s work on London’s electric vehicle charging point pilot. “There are surprising things that you find out by combining various parts of data, and that’s useful from a public sector point of view because it allows you to pull policy levels slightly differently,” Klein said.

He added: “It’s also hugely useful for the private sector because suddenly you’ve got a much better understanding of consumer behaviour – and that suddenly allows you to provide a more tailored, nuanced service to individuals.”

Theo Blackwell, chief digital officer of the Greater London Authority (GLA), said the charter was a central part of a range of initiatives that would be “transformational” and help the city meet some of its biggest challenges. “How we use data as a city is really important. It’s an asset – it’s a resource. It shouldn’t only be used for commercial exploitation and growth. It should be for the benefit of citizens and for the city that they live in,” he added.

Blackwell said some projections suggested London’s population could rise to around 13 million over the next 30 years. “As those changes take place, data will be absolutely central to how we manage new developments, like understanding congestion, and planning for school places,” he added.

He added that the ‘Data for London’ platform, currently in development, would be a “connector” for projects aimed at supporting the city’s recovery and promoting growth. The platform will direct businesses to the datasets – collected from sources including the NHS and the GLA – that they need to succeed.

Blackwell said a new “data strategy for the city” will also ensure that data is “shared legally, ethically and securely” and will “reduce friction” in data sharing across the public sector. “We are creating a foundation for something really exciting in the future, and I think this platform will be transformational for our city,” he added.

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