Launched in May 2018, the GovTech Catalyst is a £20m fund set up to help private sector innovators and start-ups tackle public sector problems.
At the beginning of 2019, the government minister for implementation Oliver Dowden announced the third round of GovTech Catalyst challenges, inviting tech companies to pitch solutions and put themselves in the running to receive £50,000 with which to develop prototypes.
While the third round of challenges references a variety of different policy areas, it was notable that two of the five concern the condition and availability of affordable and accessible housing.
Britain’s low housing supply has been a problem for policymakers for decades. But by turning to tech start-ups the government has demonstrated that it is taking the issue seriously and is willing to look outside the public sector for innovative solutions.
It is perhaps surprising that the government has not previously looked to form partnerships with start-ups to address the housing crisis – arguably the defining public policy challenge of our age.
Indeed, companies such as LandInsight, a data platform that works to aid developers and buyers to effectively find new land opportunities, and emoov, a digital estate agent designed to increase property transactions, are already developing solutions that, given a bit more time and investment, could help to alleviate demand in the property market.
As someone who has worked as part of large corporates before launching my own start-up, I know how hard it is to be innovative within the confines of a large organisation. By outsourcing innovation to individuals or small teams, the government could give itself a better chance of facilitating the development of long-term solutions to the housing crisis.
The reality is that public bodies have to deliver more services on ever-dwindling budgets under more scrutiny. This means that to become more efficient, public bodies such as the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government cannot maintain their conservative approach. They have to start actively partnering with and providing funding for UK start-ups that are pursuing technological solutions in this area.
Consequently, the fact that the government is actively asking ‘how might we accelerate the building of new housing using better geospatial intelligence?’ (the fifth of the third-round GovTech Catalyst challenges) is a positive sign for all those who believe we have only scratched the surface when it comes to the contribution start-ups can make to the public sector.
Ritam Gandhi is founder and director of Studio Graphene