Regional leadership is key to a successful Digital Strategy
Guest blog by Helen Milner OBE, Group CEO, Good Things Foundation
When the pandemic first hit in early 2021, our lives became online overnight. From homeschooling to remote-working, online shopping to virtual GP consultations, the dial suddenly shifted.
The Lloyds Bank Consumer Digital Index 2021 tells us that 60% of the UK population now has high digital capability, a level that – pre-pandemic – we expected to reach in 2025.
But on the flipside, ten million people lack even the very basic foundation-level skills needed for our digital world. In a nation with the fifth biggest economy, that’s not acceptable.
Being digitally excluded holds people back from being able to earn, learn, save money and time, connect and have a voice.
The Chancellor was clear in his latest budget that he wants a ‘high skilled economy.’ But, bluntly, we will never achieve this without more investment in basic digital skills. We risk building economies across the UK which lag behind, rather than ones which level up.
In our Blueprint to fix the digital divide, we called on the Government to back the Combined Authorities leading the way on tackling the digital divide. So we were thrilled to see several digital inclusion initiatives funded through the UK Community Renewal Fund. This speaks to the importance of digital inclusion to the national Levelling Up agenda and – we hope – shapes the way for best use of the Shared Prosperity Fund. Good Things Foundation will be partnering with three combined authorities to deliver UK CRF pilots: Greater Manchester; West Midlands; and North of Tyne.
Our Roadmap for Combined Authorities, supported by Capita, sets out the case for place-based action in devolved areas of England and the importance of regional leadership - inspired by what’s been happening in the West Midlands and in Greater Manchester, under the Mayoral leadership of Andy Street and Andy Burnham.
Our roadmap spotlights the dedicated, deliberate actions of digital inclusion champions across the UK – in communities, local authorities, libraries, charities and corporates – over many years, and the positive change this work has forged. In England, councils such as Leeds, Croydon, Salford, Stockport and Wigan have been among the pioneers.
And we know that regional leaders are stepping up to this challenge. At a recent policy breakfast examining the role of digital inclusion in driving inclusive growth, we welcomed senior representatives from places ranging from West Yorkshire to the West Midlands, the North East to Greater Manchester and Greater London, all keen to learn from others.
On top of more Treasury investment, we need to spark more conversations at a regional and local level, and inspire senior leaders to integrate digital inclusion into wider strategy and policy. We need to bring people together to collaborate on innovative ideas for those in charge of developing digital inclusion strategies.
At Good Things Foundation, we stand ready to play our part, working with our UK network of community partners to ensure people don’t get left behind in a digital world, as well as providing other services such as the UK National Databank.
We need and await a UK Digital Strategy that recognises the key role of Combined Authorities and the importance – greater than ever – of ensuring digital inclusion for everyone everywhere. And, we need a Government and Chancellor who will invest in the futures of 10 million people who lack equity of opportunity, and remain stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide.
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