Smart cities in the UK

The third instalment of the blog series based on our Smart Cities in Europe, Enabling Innovation report takes a look at the findings on smart cities in the UK.

Progress on smart cities

The UK is home to a large number of smart cities. According to a report by the European Parliament, the UK is one of only three European countries that has more than 31 cities with at least one smart initiative (Click to tweet), the others being Italy and France. However, when measured as a percentage of the total number of cities, the UK performs less well – less than three-quarters of UK cities with a population of over 100,000 can be considered ‘smart’, behind a number of countries, including Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Austria.*

The UK has implemented a number of initiatives designed to accelerate the development of smart cities. These include:

Funding: The UK Government, through Innovate UK, has implemented a series of programmes that provide funding directly to cities for investment in smart initiatives. In January 2013, Innovate UK awarded £24 million to Glasgow, following a competition entered into by 30 UK cities, for investment in smart initiatives. Innovate UK has also launched the ‘Future Cities Catapult’, funded with up to £50 million over five years. The Catapult will explore ways that public services can be integrated in a smart way to boost the economy and benefit citizens.

Collaboration: The UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has established the Smart Cities Forum, which aims to identify and address potential obstacles to the realisation of smart cities through bringing together city planners, the private sector and academia. A series of initiatives run by the Future Cities Catapult also brings together city UK planners and technology companies to assist the private sector in understanding the specific solutions cities require.

Targets: The UK has set a target to install smart meters in every home by the end of 2020. The country is a long way behind many other European countries – the programme is only scheduled to begin in earnest towards the end of 2015.

Standards: The British Standards Institution (BSI) and the UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills have established a programme to develop smart city standards.


Obstacles to smart cities

UK survey respondents broadly identify the same obstacles to the roll-out of various components of smart cities as their European counterparts. Social obstacles, including the lack of consumer demand and security and privacy concerns, are the main obstacles to the roll-out of smart meters. While this is also regarded as a major obstacle elsewhere in Europe, it is a more significant barrier in the UK. Only 22% of UK survey respondents believe UK energy consumers generally understand and are convinced by the benefits of installing smart meters (Click to tweet). The average across Europe is 31%.

While UK survey respondents identified a lack of finance as the greatest obstacle to the implementation of intelligent transport systems, they are also the group that believes the roll-out of intelligent transport systems is a priority for its transport authorities. Some 62% of UK survey respondents believe the roll-out of intelligent transport systems is a priority for UK transport authorities, compared with a Europe-wide average of 46%.


Another challenge for the UK in creating smart cities is that many public services are privatised to a greater extent than in other European countries. This can potentially slow the development of smart cities for two reasons. Firstly, city planners and governments need to convince private companies of the benefits of investing in smart initiatives. This may be problematic if these initiatives undermine private companies’ business models. For example, many UK utilities have pushed back on the Government’s plan to install smart meters in every home by 2020.

In the UK privatised utility and transport sectors, implementing smart technology that is interoperable across the various private sector suppliers is extremely challenging. “There is a strong desire in the UK public sector to use smart ticketing,” (Click to tweet) explained Simon Spooner, Partner, Osborne Clarke.

This has been demonstrated by the success of the Oyster card in London. However, London benefits from having TFL as a regulated operator, meaning it can implement initiatives like Oyster cards by itself. But in many other UK cities such as Manchester, where a number of different private companies operate bus and rail routes, getting agreement on a multi-mode and multi-operator smart ticketing system is much harder.

Simon Spooner, Partner, Osborne Clarke

More smart cities information

Download the full smart cities in Europe report here.

*European Parliament Policy Department (January 2014), “Mapping Smart Cities in the EU”

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