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‘Platform Urbanism’, ‘Government as a Platform’ and ‘Data-driven cities’ are increasingly ubiquitous concepts in debates about the future of cities. They all imagine alternative models of governance predicated on technological advances, new patterns of employment through the gig economy and business models of highly outsourced assets and minimised marginal cost. They promise better and smarter public service provision and fundamental changes in the institutional structure of urban governance. The involvement of citizens in these models, from generating, gathering and processing data to providing services, is celebrated as a novel and innovative way of democratising urban governance, reducing public overheads and empowering citizens to be more resilient and self-sufficient.
In this context, it is unsurprising that the underlying ideas of such models becomes increasingly attractive for local authorities that have experienced unprecedented funding cuts since 2010. With further cuts expected by 2020, almost half will not receive any financial support from central government. Hammered by these cuts, local authorities are close to financial breaking point and will no longer be able to provide basic local services. To tackle this issue, local authorities are experimenting with various models, from outsourcing services and auctioning assets to major institutional restructurings and transferring responsibilities to volunteers and charities.
This talk will situate the current interest in ‘governance as a platform’ within the wider context of institutional changes in England’s planning system, the ideological emphasis on competitive cities and the emerging facets of the ‘gig economy’. It will highlight the realities and challenges of these new models for small and medium sized councils, touching on issues with local empowerment and contrasting these with the interventions of international corporations, along with the regulatory frameworks and sustainability concerns underpinning these.