M2M: How local councils can cut costs

New research by ComRes for Vodafone UK shows that 67 per cent of urban councillors are not aware of Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technologies and how they can be used to deliver better, more cost efficient public services.

Local councils are missing potential savings of over £400 million and the opportunity to improve the services they offer to citizens by not capitalising on the benefits offered by Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technologies, Vodafone UK has found.

To understand why local government is yet to reap the benefits of M2M for the efficient delivery of public services, Vodafone research found that although the vast majority of urban councillors are positive about investment in technology, two thirds (67 per cent) are 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, whilst at the same time saving the tax payer money.

Vodafone UK worked with research partner ComRes to poll 629 Great Britain urban councillors and over 1,600 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 are of concern to residents. The poll found that councillors agree that investing in technology is important in delivering better public services. This approach is also supported by the majority of urban residents.

The provisional local government finance settlement means that councils in England face cuts of almost £8 billion this year (1.8 per cent of 14/15 budget). By utilising M2M – also called the Internet of Things (IoT) – 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 £400 million (£402.3 million), making up around 5 per cent of the cuts expected over the next year with just two M2M-based solutions.

Citizens are in support of smart technologies

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 £750 million each year on energy costs they could save close to £190 million 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 are in favour of lighting which brightens when it senses people or vehicles are nearby to reduce energy consumption. If connected or smart streetlights were rolled out to all 7.5 million streetlights in the UK this could drive savings of £52.9 million on energy costs (based on a conservative 20 per cent reduction) and £161.9 million in maintenance, equating to total savings of almost £215million.

Improve services that citizens are most dissatisfied with

According to the survey, residents of urban areas are less likely to be satisfied on issues concerning transportation and traffic, compared to 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 and 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 fifteen 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 support the introduction of smart traffic light systems which automatically respond 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, fifty-seven 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 greatly reduce congestion.

Benefits from adopting M2M technologies are already being seen by the private sector and other markets and are too significant for local, especially urban councillors to ignore. Local authorities should invest time in understanding the possible savings and benefits that can really help them improve services for their communities, as well as free up budget to be reinvested in front line services.

About the polling:

ComRes conducted online interviews with 1,624 GB adults who live in urban or town and fringe areas between 11 and 12 March 2015. Data were weighted to be representative of all adults in Great Britain aged 18+ who describe themselves as living in urban areas of more than 10,000 people or in town and fringe areas. ComRes also interviewed 629 GB urban councillors between 2 December 2014 and 7 January 2015. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Data tables are available on the ComRes website.