Enabling the public sector to save money, innovate and make more effective policy decisions by using space technology and data

Blog: Promoting the value of satellite data and technology across government

By John Vesey, Lead Space Innovation Facilitator, SSGP

John Vesey, Lead Space Innovation Facilitator on the Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP), considers the impact made by SSGP in its first year, and looks ahead to future plans and objectives.

The Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP) was launched in spring 2014 as a strategic, national initiative to drive the uptake and use of space products, data and services across government departments and the wider public sector. Led by the UK Space Agency and delivered in collaboration with the Satellite Applications Catapult, the programme aims to increase use of space as an enabling technology to stimulate innovation and growth, whilst also making government more efficient and ‘smarter’.

Given the breadth of audiences across the public sector, we have prioritised our efforts on key areas, including the environment, local authorities and devolved administrations, and natural hazards risk management.

Modern Black Gold

We have worked increasingly closely with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) over the past 12 months, as greater focus has been turned on Europe’s downstream EO market, forecast to be worth €1.8bn by 2030.

The value of satellite data has been recognised at the highest levels of Government, with Environment Secretary, Elizabeth Truss MP, recently describing environmental data and geospatial data as “modern black gold”.

Over the next five years, DEFRA has significant plans for “satellite data to play an indispensable role in policy development and operations, across the DEFRA network.” With this in mind, a member of the SSGP team is embedded within DEFRA’s Earth observation (EO) team, helping produce a ‘Roadmap for the use of EO in DEFRA and the wider family 2015-2020’. This will help identify project priorities and how we operationalise the data in a cost-effective way.

The good news is that this roadmap is not being done in isolation; while expertise exists in pockets around Defra and various Government agencies, plans are being implemented to improve and consolidate the existing skillsets within DEFRA, in order to maximise usage of satellite data. This will extend to an EO centre of excellence in order to strengthen collective knowledge and skills.

Driving new services and cost savings in Local Authorities

Driven by strong user interest in the capabilities offered by satellite technology, coupled with demand with greater financial savings, SSGP has also engaged with key local government organisations and stakeholders. This has included the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Local Government Association (LGA), Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE), and County Councils Network (CCN).

The Discovery Day for Local Authorities in March 2015 – which was well received by representatives from 30 different Local Authorities – focused on accelerating the uptake of satellite-enabled services to make efficiencies and improve local services. In the coming months, we’ll be working with the Devolved Administrations and Local Authorities, further promoting the impact and benefits of satellite technology; whether Earth Observation, Satellite Communication or Position, Navigation and Timing

Next steps

Going into year two, we’re expecting another busy and productive period for SSGP. We’ve already launched the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition with Innovate UK, which is designed to identify a new round of projects to support.

We are also looking at supporting our existing projects that require further funding to operationalise – all of which is consistent with the Government’s objective for satellite products and services to generate economic growth through export.

Elsewhere, we will be working with the Natural Hazards Partnership (NHP), which brings together expertise from across the UK’s leading public sector agencies to draw upon scientific advice in the preparation, response and review of natural hazards.

This engagement will be an opportunity to consider how satellite data can drive downstream applications which support better, more consistent information for the civil contingencies community and first responders, and can be incorporated into their day-to-day activities and decision-making.