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Local councils in UK could save £400m by adopting M2M, says Vodafone

Steve Rogerson
June 19, 2015
Local councils in the UK are missing potential savings of over £400m and the opportunity to improve the services they offer citizens by not capitalising on the benefits offered by M2M technologies, according to a survey by Vodafone.
Smart street lighting and smart in-building energy management systems in local government buildings could provide savings of £402m, according to the research by ComRes for Vodafone. It showed that 67 per cent of urban councillors were not aware of M2M technologies and how they could be used to deliver better, more cost efficient public services.
Yet, 77 per cent of people living in urban areas say they would support their council’s decision to invest more in new technology to drive improved public services.
To understand why local government is yet to reap the benefits of M2M for the efficient delivery of public services, the research found that although the vast majority of urban councillors were positive about investment in technology, two thirds were not familiar with M2M. This gap in understanding would explain why M2M is yet to be widely used to improve public services such as street lighting, refuse collection, urban traffic and transport management, while at the same time saving the tax payer millions.   
ComRes polled 629 urban councillors and more than 1600 residents living in or on the fringes of the country’s urban areas to understand their views on the use of technology for public service delivery and to gauge which services were of concern to residents. The poll found councillors agreed that investing in technology was important in delivering better public services. This approach is also supported by most urban residents. 
The provisional local government finance settlement means that councils in England face cuts of almost £8bn this year (1.8 per cent of the 2014-15 budget). By using M2M and IoT technologies, local councils could benefit from significant savings while improving key services. Smart street lighting and energy management systems in local government buildings, for example, could save over £400m, making up around five per cent of the cuts expected over the next year with just two M2M-based services.  
The research also suggests those savings would be welcomed by citizens who overwhelmingly said they would fully support their council’s decision to invest more in new technology to drive improved public services.  
Matt Key, director of M2M sales and commercial at Vodafone, said: “While the importance of technology seems to be widely appreciated by local councillors and residents in urban areas, the lack of awareness of the massive benefits to be gained from M2M and the internet of things means urban councils are missing out on opportunities to deliver better, smarter and more cost effective services in the areas which matter to their local communities.”
He said that among the small amount of councillors who were familiar with M2M, almost all of them (83 per cent) felt the technology would be important in delivering better services and improved value to the community.
“If we can help more councillors understand the possible savings and the benefits, then we have a real opportunity to help local councils improve the services for their communities, as well as free up more budget to be reinvested in front line services,” he said.
The poll of Britons living in or on the fringes of urban areas found them to be in strong support of using M2M technologies to improve public services and reduce running costs. The greatest savings could come from monitoring systems in local authority buildings to reduce energy consumption, a measure supported by 85 per cent of residents.
When Vodafone implemented smart monitoring systems across 200 of its sites, the company made an average saving of 29 per cent in energy costs, per site. With UK local authorities spending around £750m each year on energy costs, they could save close to £190m per year with an average saving of 25 per cent through the introduction of similar systems.
Further savings could be achieved by smart street lighting – 80 per cent of residents in urban areas said they were in favour of lighting that brightened when it sensed people or vehicles were nearby to reduce energy consumption. If connected or smart street lights were rolled out to all 7.5 million street lights in the UK this could drive savings of £52.9m on energy costs (based on a conservative 20 per cent reduction) and £161.9m in maintenance, equating to total savings of almost £215m.
According to the survey, residents of urban areas are less likely to be satisfied on issues concerning transportation and traffic, compared with other council services, such as refuse collection and street lighting. 
Traffic management, for example, can readily benefit from M2M technologies. As the survey suggests, congestion in urban areas such as London, is a major frustration for its residents, as well as costing councils money. According to the Centre for Economics & Business Research, the number of hours spent by drivers idling in traffic in London is expected to increase by nearly 20 per cent over the next 15 years to 299 hours, equating to 40 working days a year by 2030. 
In fact, 88 per cent of adults living in urban areas said they supported the introduction of smart traffic light systems that automatically responded to the flow of people and vehicles for more effective traffic management. Support for improvements to traffic light systems was higher than any other proposal tested in the polling.
Furthermore, 57 per cent of residents said they would be in support of their local council investing in applications to help them find parking spaces. One city council is already embarking on a project with Vodafone to help direct drivers to the council’s 10,000 parking bays – some of which remain vacant because people can’t find them. Drivers spend around 15 minutes looking for an available space, so the project will reduce congestion.   
“The benefits that are already being seen by the private sector, other markets and some local authorities are just too significant for urban councillors to ignore,” said Key. “Those at the highest level in government are starting to recognise the potential with IoT making its way into the spring budget for the first time earlier this year. We recommend that urban councillors find out more about M2M technologies to see how they can improve the services that matter most to their residents while making budgets work harder. At Vodafone, we are committed to working with local councils to make best use of technology to create some of the smartest, most efficient cities in Europe.”