Innovative thinking is required to help society cope with the estimated 2.5m jobs that will be lost during the next decade as a result of automation, the Smart Cities conference’s universities session heard.

Dave Carter, Smart City Project Lead at the Manchester Urban Institute, said that an estimated 2.5m jobs are due to disappear in the next decade before new replacement jobs are created.

He said: “This isn’t particularly new but at least in the 1990s, we had a raft of public policy however inefficient, said Cater, referring to initiatives like the Manpower Services Commission and the Employment Support Allowance (ESA). Half of Manchester’s music scene in the 1980s was based on young people getting on an ESA and forming a band. We need some innovative thinking about how we go through the process of dealing with that huge shake-up.”

Encouraging innovation requires more than investment in infrastructure, he said: “The idea of catalysing innovation is that it’s not just in the ground and ducts: if the place looks crap, it doesn’t matter how much Wi-Fi you’ve got. We need to think much more creatively about the aesthetic of the urban infrastructure and not just the infrastructure of the urban environment.”

As an example of an innovation that had been developed at, he provided a bike sensor developed at Manchester University which was competitive with products already on the market: “These micro tools that come out of big research projects are just as valuable as some of the biggest platforms that you develop.”

Alexandra Bolton, Deputy Director of the Centre of the Digital Built Britain, said that massive savings can be delivered through more widespread take-up of digitalisation.

She said: “It depends on the extent that people will adapt digital, but the savings are huge which is why the government is so keen to incorporate digital innovation. This isn’t a five-year project but a 50-year project.” she said, adding that infrastructure projects move at a much slower pace than the technological innovations that have transformed daily life in recent years