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Durham County Council and Blaenau Gwent Borough Council launch challenge to transform local authority services with intelligent data

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Durham County Council and Blaenau Gwent Borough Council launch challenge to transform local authority services with intelligent data

Businesses can apply for funding, provided by the Gov Tech Catalyst Fund, to develop innovative solutions to capture and analyse real-time data to improve public services

Durham County Council and Blaenau Gwent Borough Council have launched a call for technology businesses to develop innovative solutions that can capture and analyse data to transform Local Authority service delivery.

Development funding is provided under the GovTech Catalyst Fund scheme and the competition opens for applications on 24 September.

Business Durham, the economic development organisation for County Durham working on behalf of Durham County Council, will play a key role in promoting the competition and supporting Durham County Council in ensuring its success in coordination with the GovTech Catalyst team. Business Durham was also involved in preparing the bid to the GovTech Catalyst team, alongside Durham County Council and Blaenau Gwent Borough Council, to deliver this challenge.

The councils have secured £1.25 million from the GovTech Fund to support successful applicants in developing their solutions, with a focus on how real-time data routinely captured by residents and vehicles can be used to improve public service delivery – such as recycling, litter collection and street repair – while reducing costs.

The five winning companies will initially be awarded up to £50,000 to develop their ideas. The two companies providing the best potential solutions may then be awarded research and development contracts of up to £500,000 to build prototypes, which will be available to the public sector to purchase.

The challenge focuses on two initiatives:

  • Boots on the Ground: enabling residents of County Durham to collect and report data regarding highway maintenance. This scheme addresses two key issues: gaining accurate data location for the highway defect and improving understanding of the defect’s severity.
  • Eyes on the Street: enabling Blaenau Gwent Borough Council’s vehicle fleets to collect and report data as they travel around the borough concerning recycling participation, deterioration of the highways as well as monitoring and identifying highways violations.

The GovTech Fund, which is awarded via competitions and overseen by the GovTech Catalyst team, was launched by the Prime Minister in November 2017 to incentivise UK tech firms to produce innovative solutions to solve the problems facing the public sector and improve services for citizens. The funding is allocated via Innovate UK’s Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).

Minister for Implementation, Oliver Dowden, in the Cabinet Office, said:

“This fund will elevate British companies onto a global market while helping to deliver outstanding public services and improving lives for citizens.”

Councillor Brian Stephens, Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhoods and Local Partnerships at Durham County Council commented:

“The GovTech Catalyst Fund competition is a fantastic way to drive innovation in our economy and provide more opportunities for businesses to access public procurement and funding. We have a wealth of technology expertise in the region that we look forward to showcasing through this competition. We are excited to see the applications and the development of an innovative, bespoke solution that will enable us to deliver even better public services based on the use of real-time data.”

Cllr Dai Davies, Executive Member for Regeneration & Economic Development of Blaenau Gwent Borough Council, added:

“We are delighted to have been shortlisted in the first round of challenges, understanding our communities and delivering services that align to communities needs is a priority for us, especially during these challenging times of austerity. We have the ability to capture so much information, but not quite sure how we interpret it, and use it to its full benefit. So there’s our challenge…its over to the experts to find us a solution.”

Full competition documentation will only be available to applicants who register via Innovate UK’s website once the competition opens on 24 September. Further information can be found https://apply-for-innovation-funding.service.gov.uk/competition/245/overview.

A briefing event for applicants is taking place at NETPark (North East Technology Park), Thomas Wright Way, Sedgefield, TS21 3FD on 8 October – please register here.

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Exclusive: China’s Huawei, reeling from U.S. sanctions, plans foray into EVs – sources

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Exclusive: China's Huawei, reeling from U.S. sanctions, plans foray into EVs - sources 1

By Julie Zhu and Yilei Sun

HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Huawei plans to make electric vehicles under its own brand and could launch some models this year, four sources said, as the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, battered by U.S. sanctions, explores a strategic shift.

Huawei Technologies Co Ltd is in talks with state-owned Changan Automobile and other automakers to use their car plants to make its electric vehicles (EVs), according to two of the people familiar with the matter.

Huawei is also in discussions with Beijing-backed BAIC Group’s BluePark New Energy Technology to manufacture its EVs, said one of the two and a separate person with direct knowledge of the matter.

The plan heralds a potentially major shift in direction for Huawei after nearly two-years of U.S. sanctions that have cut its access to key supply chains, forcing it to sell a part of its smartphone business to keep the brand alive.

Huawei was placed on a trade blacklist by the Trump administration over national security concerns. Many industry executives see little chance that blocks on the sale of billions of dollars of U.S. technology and chips to the Chinese company, which has denied wrongdoing, will be reversed by his successor.

A Huawei spokesman denied the company plans to design EVs or produce Huawei branded vehicles.

“Huawei is not a car manufacturer. However through ICT (information and communications technology), we aim to be a digital car-oriented and new-added components provider, enabling car OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to build better vehicles.”

Huawei has started internally designing the EVs and approaching suppliers at home, with the aim of officially launching the project as early as this year, three of the sources said.

Richard Yu, head of Huawei’s consumer business group who led the company to become one of the world’s largest smartphone makers, will shift his focus to EVs, said one source. The EVs will target a mass-market segment, another source said.

All the sources declined to be named as the discussions are private.

Chongqing-based Changan, which is making cars with Ford Motor Co, declined to comment. BAIC BluePark did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Shares of Changan’s main listed company Chongqing Changan Automobile rose 8% after Reuters reported the discussions. BluePark’s shares jumped by their maximum 10% daily limit.

GROWING EV MARKET

Chinese technology firms have been stepping up their focus on EVs in the world’s biggest market for such vehicles, as Beijing heavily promotes greener vehicles as a means of reducing chronic air pollution.

Sales of new energy vehicles (NEVs), including pure battery electric vehicles as well as plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, are expected to make up 20% of China’s overall annual auto sales by 2025.

Industry forecasts put China’s NEV sales at 1.8 million units this year, up from about 1.3 million in 2020.

Huawei’s ambitious plans to make its own cars will see it join a raft of Asian tech companies that have made similar announcements in recent months, including Baidu Inc and Foxconn.

“The novel and complicated U.S. restrictions on semiconductors to Huawei have slowly been strangling the company,” said Dan Wang, a technology analyst with research firm Gavekal Dragonomics.

“So it makes sense that the company is pivoting to less chip-intensive industries in order to maintain operations.”

In the United States, Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc are also developing auto-related technology or investing in smart-car startups.

Huawei has been developing a swathe of technologies for EVs for years including in-car software systems, sensors for automobiles and 5G communications hardware.

The company has also formed partnerships with automakers such as Daimler AG, General Motors Co and SAIC Motor to jointly develop smart auto technologies.

It has accelerated hiring of engineers for auto-related technologies since 2018.

Huawei was awarded at least four patents related to EVs this week, including methods for charging between electric vehicles and for checking battery health, according to official Chinese patent records.

Huawei’s push into the EV market is currently separate from a joint smart vehicle company it co-founded along with Changan and EV battery maker CATL in November, two of the sources said.

(Reporting by Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Yilei Sun in Beijing; additional reporting by David Kirton in Shenzhen; Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee and Richard Pullin)

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Facebook switches news back on in Australia, signs content deals

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Facebook switches news back on in Australia, signs content deals 2

By Renju Jose and Jonathan Barrett

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Facebook Inc ended a one-week blackout of Australian news on its popular social media site on Friday and announced preliminary commercial agreements with three small local publishers.

The moves reflected easing tensions between the U.S. company and the Australian government, a day after the country’s parliament passed a law forcing it and Alphabet Inc’s Google to pay local media companies for using content on their platforms.

The new law makes Australia the first nation where a government arbitrator can set the price Facebook and Google pay domestic media to show their content if private negotiations fail. Canada and other countries have shown interest in replicating Australia’s reforms.

“Global tech giants, they are changing the world but we can’t let them run the world,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday, adding that Big Tech must be accountable to sovereign governments.

Facebook, whose 8-day ban on Australian media captured global attention, said it had signed partnership agreements with Schwartz Media, Solstice Media and Private Media. The trio own a mix of publications, including weekly newspapers, online magazines and specialist periodicals.

Facebook did not disclose the financial details of the agreements, which will become effective within 60 days if a full deal is signed.

“These agreements will bring a new slate of premium journalism, including some previously paywalled content, to Facebook,” the social media company said in a statement.

The non-binding agreements allay some fears that small Australian publishers would be left out of revenue-sharing deals with Facebook and Google.

“It’s never been more important than it is now to have a plurality of voices in the Australian press,” said Schwartz Media Chief Executive Rebecca Costello.

Facebook on Tuesday struck a similar agreement with Seven West Media, which owns a free-to-air television network and the main metropolitian newspaper in the city of Perth.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp has said it was also in talks with Facebook.

Google Australia managing director Mel Silva said in a statement published on Friday the company had found a “constructive path to support journalism”.

She thanked Australian users of the search engine for “bearing with us while we’ve sent you messages about this issue”.

Facebook and Google threatened for months to pull core services from Australia if the media laws, which some industry players claim are more about propping up ailing local media, took effect.

While Google struck deals with several publishers including News Corp as the legislation made its way through parliament, Facebook took the more drastic step of blocking all news content in Australia.

That stance led to amendments to the laws, including giving the government the power to exempt Facebook or Google from mandatory arbitration, and Facebook on Friday began restoring the Australian news sites.

(Reporting by Renju Jose and Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Richard Pullin and Jane Wardell)

 

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China’s factory activity growth likely moderated during February holiday lull – Reuters poll

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China's factory activity growth likely moderated during February holiday lull - Reuters poll 3

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s factory activity likely grew at a slightly slower rate in February as factories closed for the Lunar New Year holiday, a Reuters poll showed, although growth is expected to remain firm, buoyed by an early resumption of production.

The official manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) is expected to dip marginally to 51.1 in February from 51.3 in January, according to the median forecast of 20 economists polled by Reuters. A reading above 50 indicates an expansion in activity on a monthly basis.

Chinese factories typically scale back operations or close for lengthy periods around the Lunar New Year holiday, which fell in the middle of February this year.

However, the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the winter had prompted local governments and companies to dissuade workers from travelling back to their hometowns, giving a boost to the earlier-than-usual resumption of production at many factories, analysts say.

“Although government COVID-19 prevention measures may constrain some manufacturing activities in the near-term, the fact that a majority of migrant workers stayed in their workplace cities for the holiday should facilitate an earlier resumption of business activity following the holiday this year,” said analysts at Nomura in a note to client on Thursday.

Wang Zhishen, a migrant worker from Gansu, told Reuters that his factory, a manufacturer of logistics boxes in the manufacturing hub of Dongguan, only closed for three days during the holiday, thanks to overwhelming businesses. Lured by the 1,500-yuan cash subsidy his factory offered, he chose to work through the holiday.

The Chinese economy has largely shaken off the gloom from the COVID-19 health crisis, with consumers opening up their wallets after months of hesitation. Growth is now set to rebound sharply this quarter, also helped by the low base effect of a year ago.

The country has successfully curbed the domestic transmission of the COVID-19 virus in northern China, with the national health authority reporting zero new local cases for the 11th straight day. Cities that were on lockdown have since vowed to push for a work resumption at full speed.

The official PMI, which largely focuses on big and state-owned firms, and its sister survey on the services sector, will both be released on Sunday.

The private Caixin manufacturing PMI will be published on Monday. Analysts expect the headline reading will dip slightly to 51.4 from 51.5 in January.

(Reporting by Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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