Getting Southampton ready for the AI revolution

Council signs off on ambitious plan to ensure city stays ahead of the digital curve

AI Southampton

Following an extensive inquiry in to ‘The Future of Work in Southampton’, Southampton City Council has signed off an ambitious action plan to ensure the city and its residents stay ahead of the curve in the Digital Age.

The inquiry, led by a panel comprised of elected officials, was held between September 2018 and March 2019, to consider how the City could maximise the opportunities created by artificial intelligence (AI), automation and technological changes. At the same time it aimed to identify and mitigate potential disruption to the local economy, particularly for workers in sectors that are most likely to see the greatest increase in the level of use of AI, automation and technological advancement.

Advice, insights and examples from nationally and internationally recognised experts such as Dame Wendy Hall (the Government’s AI champion and Regius Professor of Computer Science, at the University of Southampton) and Andrew Carter (Chief Executive of Centre for Cities) who contributed to five evidence gathering sessions. These were undertaken alongside extensive analysis conducted by a dedicated team at the council to develop a robust business case to shape the city’s future growth.

AI, for example, is set to contribute to an additional £232bn to UK GDP according to a report by PwC (2017) with an estimated increase in spending power per household between £1,800 and £2,300 a year by 2030. Conversely, the Digital Age will also result in a decline in jobs due to automation, approximately 21%, according to the renowned think tank nesta (2017).

The issue is a global one, with many major cities looking to future proof their local economies by ensuring residents are suitably upskilled in order to support employment needs in emerging sectors.

At a local level, the contrasting forecasts for differing industries has spurred the council to ensure that citizens have the necessary skills to capitalise on new job and business opportunities arising in the Digital Age. Digital infrastructure is being put in place in order to support businesses to adopt new technologies that can improve their growth prospects and revenues.

The Scrutiny Panel Inquiry report and subsequent action plan signed off at the last Cabinet meeting provides optimism for both residents and businesses for the way ahead.

Leader of Southampton City Council, Councillor Christopher Hammond said: “Our city has always been a global pioneer in innovation and discovery. The findings from the Future of Work in Southampton inquiry and the supporting action plan to meet its recommendations demonstrate the vision, drive and ambition we have for the city.

"Our digital infrastructure, business community and universities are combining to propel the city into what is becoming known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Crucially, it's the skills of our residents and the readiness of our talent pool coming through the education system that is key to unlocking the significant economic and societal benefits that technology will bring.

“Initiatives such as the opening of the Network Eagle Lab co-working space, the £50m investment from toob to install hyper speed broadband across the city, to Vodafone listing Southampton in its 5G roll out and Virgin Media’s proposal to introduce its Gigabit City programme are lining Southampton up as the Tech Capital of the South."