Will local election outcomes shift the digital trajectory of the UK? 

Eloise Smith

The results of the local election came as a shock to some, but what will it mean for digital projects going on in local councils? Let’s speculate.   

Tory Tension 
The Conservatives have lost a lot of seats, with 515 councillors this time round, a fall of 474 on 2021. They lost ten councils, holding on to just six. This drastic change is bound to result in shifts in priorities concerning digital projects.  

Combined Authority Discombobulation
West Midlands Combined Authority – Andy Street to Richard Parker
As an example, Labour defeated the Conservatives in the WMCA mayoral elections.
Ahead of the local election, an article was published on WMCA’s website on a Reboot for West Midlands digital plan, backed by Andy Street, which outlines plans to collaborate with partners in digitally upskilling residents, expanding broadband connectivity for people and businesses, and enhancing the use of data and technology to improve public services while reducing the region's carbon footprint. 

Richard’s priorities mention digital upskilling and transport but are less specific. Will this mean digital progress is set back? Only time will tell.   

West Yorkshire Combined Authority - Tracy Brabin Steals the Show 
Tracy Brabin retains her spot as Mayor of West Yorkshire, with labour gaining a greater majority than in the previous local election. In 2022, the Digital Skills Plan was launched, Tracy quoting “You can’t level up communities like ours without digital skills, and our plan sets the path for the future.”  

Home of NHS England, West Yorkshire is a leader in health and digital technology. An £80 million boost for West Yorkshire's digital and health technology firms was announced this March. Tracy explains “This multi-million pound investment will help us build world-leading centres of innovation in Bradford, Huddersfield and Leeds, bringing together our universities, businesses and hospitals to drive the development of lifechanging technologies and deliver thousands of skilled jobs.” 

Hopefully we will see Tracy lead these initiatives successfully with continued power.  

Greater Manchester Combined Authority - Andy Burnham’s Continued Vision  
Andy Burnham has spoken out about his digital vision and addressing the digital divide, for example stating that GMCA are  ‘… ensuring that everyone in Greater Manchester, whatever their age, location or situation, can benefit from the opportunities digital brings’.  

A study by bionic found Manchester to have the most digital conclusion services in the UK.   

We can speculate that Andy Burnham’s continued position as Mayor will facilitate further progress and strengthening of the programme.   

Something Different?  
Even in a world where all local leaders prioritise digital to the same extent, their approaches to digital transformation are bound to be slightly different. This has the potential to stifle momentum.   

It is also argued that without consistent leadership, even in a world where politicians both prioritise digital to the same extent and have the same approach to leading digital initiatives, they must be educated on leading initiatives successfully, which will take time and hinder progress. If they are not briefed adequately, there will also be repercussions.  

The best measure of success lies in translation of vision into concrete advancements that benefit society at large. The impact of the local election on individual councils will of course vary, but hopefully results will improve the trajectory of the digital landscape in the UK overall.   

For more insight, attend DigiGov North 2025. Taking place in Manchester next year, the event brings together the biggest government tech experts, addressing challenges and opportunities in transforming government services in an increasingly digital world, focusing on local government and the North of the UK. 

Discussions on the future of technology will take centre stage at the DigiGov Expo, taking place live at the ExCeL on 24th-25th September 2024!