Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Matt Warman.)
The inspiration for this debate came from my visit to the mid-west USA last month with a cross-party delegation of MPs from the British-American parliamentary group. I admit to having been a bit of a technophobe prior to the delegation, and I still am a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to technology.
I thought 5G was about higher speeds—that was my understanding of what we should expect. However, it appears from our learning on the visit that there is so much more to 5G and to smart cities than just higher speeds. It is actually about transformative technology and its ability to connect not just people but things—5G is designed to increase connectivity. We are talking about smarter motorways, smarter factories, smarter homes and smarter cities, and I would like to see capacity for smarter towns, smarter villages and smarter rural areas, because connectivity must be inclusive across the whole United Kingdom and across all areas.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Smart cities is a wonderful programme, with Belfast leading the way in smart city urban innovation. Does she agree it is imperative that we share good practice and information throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to ensure that the UK, as a whole, is able safely and effectively to make the most of technology and to ensure that we are not at cyber-war with each other within the UK, at the expense of lost opportunities for everyone?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that important point. It is important that smart technology is used and regulated appropriately, and that communities buy into the technology so that they can benefit collectively, rather than be in opposition to and competition with each other. The hon. Gentleman’s point is well made and I hope the Minister will reflect on it in his speech, because it is important that all areas benefit from this new smart technology. In my constituency, we are looking at redeveloping our new town, which was built after the second world war; it was new and shiny then, and it improved our lives and wellbeing dramatically. We are looking to develop smart technology and for us to have smart, sustainable East Kilbride moving forward.
With 5G, people will be able to control their home and car—everything—from a single device. I had always thought that autonomous vehicles were a bit pie in the sky, but having spoken to the technology leaders in the mid-west and internationally during the visit I know that this technology is already on the showroom floor and is now just being refined. So this is going to be happening. Autonomous vehicles—electric vehicles—can improve climate emissions, tackling CO2 , and reduce congestion, because we may be less likely to own vehicles in the future. We may have a share in these robot vehicles rather than own them, and they may come to our homes, take us where we want to go and then move on to the next person’s home and take them where they want to go. It will be like a robot taxi—that is how I would think of it. This would mean less congestion in our cities, because we will not all have to have cars and we might not all be travelling at the same time. Less car parking would be required in cities and in high streets, and we hope there would be a consumer benefit in terms of less cost. One question to the Minister is about consumer benefits and costs in the future, and how we make this beneficial for consumers.
Toyota is designing multifunctional vehicles, able to serve as not only a taxi but a hospital shuttle, delivery van or mobile co-working space. I therefore ask the Minister to ensure that determinations in this regard are fully inclusive and adaptable for those with special needs and disabilities. I chair the all-party group on disability, and I was thinking about the impact of these vehicles on the Motability scheme; it will be essential to ensure that vehicles can be adapted for wheelchairs and for people with special needs.
Space10 is the innovation hub run by IKEA and I understand it is piloting autonomous healthcare vehicles, which bring medical equipment and professionals to people’s doorsteps. I was reading in The Times today that 5G can enable hospital specialists to make a diagnosis remotely while patients are still in the ambulance, as faster connections can allow paramedics to perform ultrasound scans as clinicians watch live; it is happening in the ambulance and guidance can be offered on what to do through robotic gloves. This technology would boost survival rates by allowing more timeous diagnosis, reducing diversions to other hospitals. What often happens is that the initial diagnosis may change when the patient reaches the hospital and they then have to go to a different specialist hospital. This technology should the reduce the rate of those misdiagnoses and improve morbidity rates for patients, who will be able to get to surgery much faster.
We will therefore have to look ahead and alter our training—of paramedics, health professionals, doctors, surgeons, nurses and so on—to ensure that we capitalise on this technology. A whole-government approach will be needed. I do not expect the Minister to answer all those questions tonight, but it would be useful to find out how this is going to be co-ordinated in the future.
The hon. Lady is right about co-ordination, and perhaps the Minister will respond on this issue. It is imperative that the four regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are part of this, so that Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England are doing this together. Does she feel that when it comes to working on a policy and a strategy it is important that we all feel the benefits?
Yes, I absolutely think that. It is why, although this debate is on “Smart Cities”, I have placed such an emphasis on all areas of our populations—towns, villages and rural populations, too. That has to be right, both across the United Kingdom and internationally. Specialists in the health aspects I was speaking about can be international specialists from across the world, who are able to lend their expertise through this technology, so that it does not just connect the UK, but instead connects us to the EU—although some in this House are trying to disconnect us, following the vote—and right across the world. That is important to specialists internationally.
Traffic management may be a particular issue that can also be improved—I am sure we would all be glad to hear that—particularly for those who have long journeys in the morning. I see lots of congestion in London when I am travelling to the House of Commons each day.
This technology may get people to the hospitals faster and police to critical incidents much more quickly. Our delegation heard in Chicago about how sensors on lampposts in high-risk areas are sensing gunshots in milliseconds, so that the police and emergency services can get to the area where someone has been harmed, both to apprehend those responsible and to treat those impacted much more quickly. So this technology is also aiding the police and emergency services, and such technology will also be expanded to look at sensors for fire and to respond to other types of difficulty that citizens can get into.
The data can also be used to convict those responsible. On the visit, we asked questions about data security and GDPR—the general data protection regulation. It appears crucial that any and all of these advances must be developed with community participation. That was what really helped this to work in Chicago. There was buy-in from the local community, who had experienced the gun-related deaths, wanted something to be done much more quickly and were then agreeable to the data being collected in this way and used to the community’s benefit. That participation must be at the forefront, with communities on board.
We all need education in this regard, as members of the community and as Members of Parliament and leaders within the community. We therefore need to make sure that our communities are aware of the new technology, understand how it might improve their lives and put in place appropriate consultation about the data usage that can come from it. I ask the Minister for training for MPs in this new technology and its implications for our constituencies, so that we will also then be able to try to improve training locally to make sure that all the agencies that will be affected should be on board and understand how to take this forward for the best benefit.
I also heard about how 5G will also allow technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality to become commonplace—so “Star Wars” fans may now be able to have their own Princess Leia moment. I even heard, in a local school I was visiting, Duncanrig Secondary School in East Kilbride, that a constituent who is an inventor has sought to bring holograms to children’s reading materials. They may soon be able to speak directly to Harry Potter when they turn the page and, thus, have a much more interactive experience with their reading development.
The delegation heard that 5G had vastly altered infrastructure projects in South Bend. For instance, they were going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new sewerage systems, similar to the billions being spent in London for the same reason.
Yes, that is the value of the trip: we were able to make connections between the UK and the US, and between those who are developing the technology, to make sure that we share in the benefits seen in South Bend, which include the reduction of flooding through the use of new sensors in the sewerage system. The technology has save saved billions of dollars, because South Bend was going to have a whole new sewage pipe infrastructure but is now able to regulate the flow with the 5G and the sensors. These technologies are transferable to other areas of the world.
The hon. Gentleman is assiduous in representing his constituents and the first thing he said when he spoke to EmNet was that he would make connections so that the benefits could be seen in his constituency. The technology can save money, and in South Bend the money set aside for new infrastructure can be spent elsewhere. London might consider at least liaising with South Bend and the innovative agency EmNet, which provides the technology there.
I am pleased to be able to speak about these developments today. My concern, and my request to the Minister, is that the technology is made fully available in towns, villages and rural areas. Everywhere the delegation went, people spoke about smart cities, but the technology has to be rolled out elsewhere. In some areas of our constituencies, internet speeds are not at the appropriate level to enable children to do their homework, and we are still waiting for 4G in some areas. Rural areas in particular tend to be the ones that miss out.
On rural areas, I read a magazine article by Tim Hulse that says that Beard Hill farm, which is part of the UK’s agri-tech strategy, now has robotic milking, and it seems to be working well. I am not quite sure how it works—perhaps I will get to visit it—but it seems to be helping most by milking the cows when they want to be milked, rather than their being on a regime, thereby improving the quality of the milk and improving the cows’ welfare. The Government are involved in work that is already being done in some rural areas, and I would like to find out more about that. What type of consultation and communication does the Minister have with the devolved Governments throughout the UK to make sure that, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, the benefits are shared throughout the different countries of the UK?
I thank the Minister for hearing and responding to the debate. Will he ensure that we have not only smart cities, but smart towns and villages, and even smart small businesses? Big business is often able to capitalise on new technology, but how do we get it rolled out to small businesses so that they do not lag behind and can be competitive, too? Please do not forget our rural areas; they must benefit from the technology. What will the strategy be not only to ensure that technology is applied to things such as infrastructure, roads and autonomous vehicles, but to give us a good work-life balance and enable a focus on wellbeing? We should focus on wellbeing in the community, and the technology that is being developed will augment that. We have just had a debate on climate change, and the technology that is brought forward and in which we invest should improve our climate objectives, rather than undermine them. There are a lot of points for the Minister to answer, so I look forward to his response.
I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this debate and welcome the opportunity to set out the Government’s position on smart cities. First, though, I thank the hon. Lady and her colleagues on the British-American parliamentary group delegation for their valuable work in visiting the United States to inquire into smart cities. As Science, Research and Innovation Minister, I have spoken previously about the importance of remaining truly international in our collaborations—we recently published an international research and innovation strategy—and the hon. Lady’s work contributes a great deal to the maintenance of our global partnerships. We must be able to learn from our friends and colleagues across the Atlantic and bring back that learning to the benefit of everybody in the House.
There is no bigger trend in the world today than the move to urbanisation. By 2050, it is expected that three quarters of the world’s population will live in cities, with nearly 200,000 people globally making that transition every day. It is clear that city living presents unique opportunities and challenges. Smart cities, which involve the melding of digital technology and data to monitor, manage and improve our urban environment are what we need to harness those unique opportunities.
I reassure the hon. Lady that when it comes to Government policy on smart cities, we provided a formal definition in 2013. It stated that
“the concept is not static: there is no absolute definition of a smart city, no end point, but rather a process, or series of steps, by which cities become more ‘liveable’ and resilient and, hence, able to respond quicker to new challenges.”
A smart city can also be defined as
“an urban area that uses different types of electronic Internet of things…sensors to collect data and then use these data to manage assets and resources”.
Although termed a city, a smart city is actually a fluid concept that can incorporate anything that supports it. Those things range from 5G to autonomous vehicles, but it is crucial to note that smart cities are a process as much as a policy.
Smart cities encompass a vast array of technologies and policies that the Government have a role in creating and influencing, involving everything from transport to energy and communications, as well as the many issues that the hon. Lady raised in her valuable contribution. Because of that, the Government have recognised the need to support the development of smart cities, as part of the industrial strategy, in the interests of economic growth, combating climate change—I was proud earlier to be the Minister responsible for taking forward the statutory instrument that the hon. Lady mentioned—and, crucially, enhancing the quality of life for residents, which must always lie at the heart of any policy. This will be achieved through a number of Government initiatives, to which I shall now turn.
A smart city, town or area that recognises the need for new and emergent technologies to deliver better living standards for its citizens needs efficient transport, enabled by new technologies. The “Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy”, which the Government published in March, outlines our approach to urban transport innovations, ensuring that technologies are safe, accessible and green. It is worth referring to some of the strategy’s core principles to reassure the hon. Lady that putting the consumer and the citizen at the centre of our vision is exactly what we intend to do. The principles of the strategy include that new modes of transport and new mobility services must be safe and secure by design, and that the benefits of innovation in mobility must be available to all parts of the UK and all segments of society. As I will touch on later, if we are to convince the public of and maintain public trust in the need to invest in future innovation, technology and research, it is crucial that we are able to communicate the value of that for the taxpayer across every region of the United Kingdom.
Other principles from the strategy include that walking, cycling and active travel must remain the best options for short urban journeys, and that touches on the health-related points that the hon. Lady made in her speech. Mass transit must remain fundamental to an efficient transport system. New mobility services must lead to the transition towards zero emissions. Mobility innovation must help with British congestion through more efficient use of limited road space. The marketplace for mobility must be open to stimulate innovation and give the best for consumers.
The new mobility services are designed to operate as part of an integrated transport system, combining public, private and multiple modes of transport users. The data—the hon. Lady touched on data—from new mobility services must be shared where appropriate to improve both choice and the operation of that transport system.
In addition, we have established a future of mobility grand challenge, which I also cover as Science and Innovation Minister. This grand challenge is one of the four announced as part of the industrial strategy. It will take advantage of the extraordinary innovation in UK engineering technology to deliver better journeys for all. The main objectives are to be able to stimulate innovation, create new markets and secure a 21st century transport system. We believe that this could be a £900 billion global market in intelligent mobility by 2025, which is why it is equally important to be in the vanguard of developing those new technologies so that we can be world leaders. Since the “Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy” was published in early 2019, setting out the nine principles that will guide Government decision making, we have continued to ensure that we will take forward the biggest regulatory review of transport in a generation, taking advantage of technological advances to be able to better connect people, goods and services.
Alongside the strategy and the future of the mobility grand challenge, the Government have launched a competition for up to four new future mobility zones. This £90 million competition will test innovative transport ideas around the UK that could reduce congestion, pollution and costs, while making travel more accessible. Some £20 million of that £90 million was allocated to the west midlands last year to help develop the concept of future mobility zones—zones not just exclusive to cities but including urban areas and towns. As the Member of Parliament for Kingswood, near Bristol, I fully understand the importance of representing the urban region that includes not just the city centre, but areas around the outside of major cities. This can capitalise on related investments in the transport innovation in the region. The remainder of the funding will be awarded through a competitive process, with the winners announced this autumn.
Internationally, it should be noted that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office hosted a smart sustainable cities workshop in Madrid in February, with a focus on transforming mobility in cities. The workshop brought together 20 cities, looking at planning and delivering new, smart, low-carbon mobility systems.
Turning to the issue of smart technology, only a few weeks ago, I visited the Bristol and Bath science park to unveil a foundation plaque for the new £70 million Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems. This institute is a specialist hub, which aims to deliver transformational research and innovation within the automotive industry, looking at the development of clean, efficient, ultra low emission vehicles. This is just one example of an investment made in a region. We have seen others. I was at Warwick Manufacturing Group in the west midlands on Friday, demonstrating our commitment to invest not just in London, Oxford and Cambridge—that so-called golden triangle of research—but in other areas of the country with traditional technologies that may not have had the opportunity to demonstrate that they can also be in the vanguard.
I have been to Glasgow, which I know is not far from the hon. Lady’s constituency, to see the fantastic work that is being done on quantum and the impact that quantum can have on the future of smart cities. It is potentially unfathomable at the moment, but we certainly know that those new technologies need to be supported to establish a future opportunity for visions in our cities and allow academic researchers at both Glasgow and Strathclyde to combine with industry to focus on what they know will be the huge potential for quantum. That is just one example of how we are trying to invest additionally not only in existing technologies, but in future and emerging technologies.
In further efforts to modernise our transport systems, the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, a joint Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Department for Transport policy team, was established in 2015 to secure the UK’s position at the forefront of this technology.
Automation can save lives, improve traffic flow and offer people better travel options. The Government are committed to ensuring that we can all benefit from the advent of these technologies as they emerge, which is why we intend to invest more than £250 million of industry match funding up to 2022 in research and development and in testing infrastructure. That will accelerate the development of these technologies and, crucially, anchor them in the UK. In addition, the Department for Transport’s £2.4 billion transforming cities fund was launched as part of the industrial strategy and expanded in the 2018 Budget by the Chancellor to address weaknesses in city transport systems. More than £1 billion has been devolved so far to six metro Mayors, and the Government are allocating a further £1.28 billion across another 12 cities on a competitive basis.
Creating an economy that harnesses artificial intelligence and big data, as the hon. Lady said, is one of the great challenges of our age. Data collected by smart meters, for example, facilitates innovative tariffs, with prices varying throughout the day as a result of a range of energy saving tools for households and small businesses. On Friday, I was in Solihull to see one of 100 homes in an experiment in which we are looking at having sensors placed in every single room.
As we talk about smart cities, smart towns and smart villages, I would extend the idea further to smart houses, smart dining rooms and smart living rooms so that we are able, for example, to meet the net zero target on carbon emissions by 2050. We know that some of the challenges that we face will be around clean growth. They will also be about looking at existing buildings to see what can done to ensure that they are more energy friendly. That will allow everybody using smart meters to better engage with their energy use and save money on their bills. A better understanding of energy demand will allow new local networks to manage their energy flows by supporting the integration of local decentralised energy resources, reducing the cost of network upgrades, facilitating detailed asset and building-level data, and creating secure, more centralised communication networks. Smart meters are one of the enabling technologies for smart cities. What we have seen already is that by placing technology in individual homes, we are able to connect up with a wider picture. We can take advantage of the data to establish patterns and demonstrate how best we can create future networks.
Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend a roundtable with the Energy Systems Catapult, which champions a whole-system approach to our network. For that reason, it has been responsible for the Government’s energy data taskforce. It has been challenged to identify gaps in the energy sector where data could be used more efficiently. This approach will be integral to the effective deployment of smart cities in order to encourage industry collaboration. Last week the taskforce published its recommendations, which we, alongside Ofgem, are considering.
In addition, we established the artificial intelligence sector deal in April 2018, which outlines nearly £1 billion of support for our future AI capability. This includes investment in leadership, skills, data, the new Office for Artificial Intelligence and the Alan Turing Institute, which I was able to visit this morning. Visiting the institute, it was absolutely clear that there is a huge potential for change in our public sector and our local authorities. However, that potential will be realised only if they have the opportunity to harness the high-performance computing and AI modelling that will demonstrate what can be done to define and establish behavioural change within cities.
Another field that can contribute greatly to the development of smart cities is robotics. At the beginning of the year, I enjoyed a visit to the University of Bristol, where I was promoting a £7 million funding announcement for robots that can be deployed into sewerage, water or gas pipes to inspect them and make repairs. That will be critical for transport systems on every road right down to village roads and country lanes. We know that the disruption caused by taking up pipework can stymie rural communities in particular for months on end, especially if it is the on the only road in and out of the village. It is estimated that innovations such as using robotics to inspect and make repairs without digging up the road in the first place could save the economy about £5.5 billion every year through reduced road excavations.
Turning to the need to benefit regions and towns, I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. As I said earlier, it will be vital to demonstrate that this is a shared initiative—that the research that is ongoing around smart cities is not just going to be put in place in the large cities of London, Edinburgh, Bristol, Birmingham or Manchester, but is to be devolved further down to the localities surrounding cities.
I am also the Minister for agri-tech, so I believe that we can do a lot through advances in rural technology and emerging technologies. The last agri-tech strategy was published in 2013; it is time that it had a refresh, because the technology has moved on. There have been fantastic opportunities to use British research in international partnerships to bring about agricultural change in other countries. We now have the opportunity to use some of that research to benefit rural communities.
When it comes to investment in areas such as those near the hon. Lady’s constituency, I point to the benefits that have already come about, such as the Innovate UK future cities demonstrator. Innovate UK awarded Glasgow £24 million to become a future cities demonstrator site, developing digital infrastructure and data initiatives to make it an interconnected smart city. What was fantastic about that project was that it led to £144 million in savings and new investments for the council. At the time, it focused on four key areas: active travel, such as cycling and walking; energy; social transport; and public safety. The hon. Lady mentioned small businesses and SMEs. Local businesses reported significant benefits from their involvement with that programme; some 63% of SMEs attracted additional business. When we look at the projects and at the funding from our research councils, it is crucial that we can to make those evaluations and communicate them to the public—to say that they did benefit people’s lives. People may not necessarily have noticed that something was a specific part of a programme established as part of the smart cities initiative, but to further the work we need to do, we need to go out and celebrate those investments.
Other investments have been made across the country. I wanted to mention to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that the Connected Places Catapult, which spearheaded the digital infrastructure innovation strand, was a key part of the Belfast region city deal, which brought industry, academia and local authorities together around that shared proposal to the Treasury. That resulted in a £350 million investment from the UK Government.
I went to Belfast back in February and spoke to representatives of the University of Ulster and to the vice-chancellor of Queen’s University, Belfast. They demonstrated to me the importance of the triple helix—investment in a locality by the Government, with the university as a key locator of the knowledge economy in a local area and also with local businesses. It is about supporting local businesses and using the money to put them in contact with academics, who they might not have been in contact with before. I saw that with Quantum in Glasgow and the recent announcement of the ARCHER super-computer in Edinburgh, and with robotics in Bristol—it is about linking them up with Sheffield and Manchester and other regions that will have to adapt and demonstrate the new technology.
It is not just Belfast, but its peripheries: it is my constituency of Strangford; my council area of Ards and North Down; Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council; Mid and East Antrim Borough Council; and Newtownabbey Borough Council. Belfast and its surrounding areas all benefit—that benefit is for everyone.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Setting out the benefits beyond the inner city locations is so crucial. When it comes to dealing with the issues of science and technology, we need to demonstrate the need for smart cities that will improve congestion and public transport.
I have not yet touched on the critical need to make sure that the lives and experiences of disabled people are better met in our cities. As Universities Minister, I am really keen that inclusivity must be mainstreamed. We should not be thinking about disabled people as part of the strategies; they should be at the centre of any strategy. That is the same in a university campus as in an inner-city location or a pedestrianised zone in a shopping centre. Placing the needs of disabled people at the heart of a vision from the very beginning is also critical in the design of smart cities for the future. Any local authority should make sure that it takes those issues of inclusivity absolutely to heart.
I conclude on a point of principle. The Government are committed to spending 2.4% of GDP on research and development—both private and public spend; at the moment, roughly a third of that spend is public and two thirds private. At the moment, we spend 1.7% on research and development. Other countries such as the United States, Germany, South Korea and even China are spending vastly more than us. That allows them to make advances that we must match.
Hitting 2.4% of GDP by 2027—the Government’s target—will just take us to the OECD baseline. We have to be able to make that investment, which would mean increasing the amount we spend on research and development across the public and private sectors from about £35 billion a year to £60 billion. To do that, we must convince SMEs to change their business models and recognise the value of research and development.
For example, we set up a robotics strategy in 2013. We invested about £386 million as a Government in robotics, and we leveraged in private capital of over £1 billion as a result. We need to see how we can increase that leverage; at the moment, the private sector puts in roughly £1.40 for every pound we spend on research and development in areas such as smart cities. In Germany, the figure is nearer £2.40 and in Israel it is about £3. We could be doing more to ensure a greater sum total pot for research and development on smart cities and the technologies that underpin them. However, we have to be able to make that initial public investment.
I have been giving a series of speeches about the road to 2.4%. First, I have covered the critical issue of people—investing in universities and future research leaders. Secondly, I have spoken about international partnerships; I am delighted that the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow took part in the delegation to the United States, setting out the new countries with which we wish to work for the future. Thirdly, I have been focusing on the new technologies such as quantum and robotics—the underpinning of smart cities and a future R&D strategy. My fourth speech on 10 July will be about how we can increase leverage and private investment for the future.
All four speeches relate to the key point of smart cities, which will happen and expand into our regions, towns and villages only if we make the investment in research and development in the longer term. We will need to spend £60 billion across the private and public sectors by 2027. We will need a catalytic moment from the public sector.
As science and technology Minister, I am also determined to ensure that we increase spend on clean and green technology for the future. The debate earlier focused on carbon capture, utilisation and storage. It is the regions that are coming up with some of the great new ideas; on Thursday, I will be going to Cheshire to look at some of the latest technology in that area. We do need to invest publicly as well as trying to increase private investment. The 2.4% figure must be a cornerstone of this Government’s and any future Government’s desire to meet the net zero target by 2050.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady secured this debate. It has highlighted some of the challenges that will lead to huge opportunities if we make that commitment to spending 2.4% on research and development. We can reach out to the whole country. Rather than research being focused in certain cities, we will be able to make sure that everyone in this country can share the proceeds of growth from research and development. We are looking at smart cities, but every town can be a smart town and every village a smart village.
Question put and agreed to.