Ask anyone who has heard of the borough of Newham in the East-End of London and they may mention how poor the area is.
The Borough has 50 per cent unemployment. Average life expectancy is one of the lowest in the city and it’s a truism that if you get on the Jubilee Line at Westminster, you should take of a year for every stop going East until you get to Canning Town.
It is a first port of call for many of the city’s immigrant population and over 100 languages are spoken, but the borough is often just a stopping off point, with people arriving, setting themselves up and moving on to better areas when they can afford to. But according to Newham Borough Council’s CIO Geoff Connell, things are changing.
The council’s new head office, opened two years ago is a sign of this optimism, situated on the side of the Royal Albert Dock, across the water from City Airport.
The Excel exhibition centre is just down the road and from the second floor of the building where the IT department is located, it’s easy to spot the sports arena complex that will be used for the 2012 Olympic Games.
These organisations and others, such as the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, opened last September are the focus of hopes that the unemployment rate can be reduced and residents will be persuaded to stay in the area.
“In the seven years since the decision to hold the Olympics in the UK was announced, the resulting investment is equivalent to 100 years of normal investment,” said Connell.
Not only that, but the area should benefit from the general feeling of national pride when it hosts the games, hopefully creating a more positive outlook for the population.
Connell goes on to describe how BT and Cisco are investing in deploying superfast broadband in the area, hopefully creating a tech-rich enterprise zone similar to the M4 corridor on the other side of the capital. He says it is the first borough to enjoy ubiquitous availability of superfast broadband.
From the positive way he describes the area, it’s clear Connell has a special passion for his work and realises that his strategy can have an impact on the quality of the service the council provides.
Every penny he saves will go to a local population that needs much from public services. It's the council's goal to reduce its overall budget by £116m over the next four years. Connell has a remit to achieve around £11m in savings by 2015.
As we walked around the office shortly before Christmas, it’s clear that it is winding down for the holiday, but there is also a concerted effort to encourage remote and flexible working amongst the council staff, because it will help cut down on building costs, but also in preparation for the Games, which Connell thinks will disrupt public services provision to a considerable degree.