Cllr Peter Fleming is Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Improvement and Innovation Board, which ensures councils have the help they need to improve performance by working in partnership with sector bodies. It also delivers the LGA’s sector-led improvement support, including peer challenges, productivity, leadership development programmes and sharing good and innovative practice. The Digital Inclusion Programme is part of the LGA’s wider sector-led improvement offer.
As the world moves on and technology improves, the services we offer to local communities moves with it. Councils are dedicated to improving their communities’ digital skills and are pledging to continue this effort.
This is why the Local Government Association has committed to provide funding for 10 councils across the country, to offer their residents the vital digital skills needed to assist the community and help it thrive.
As part of the LGA’s wider sector-led improvement offer, the LGA’s ‘Digital Inclusion Programme’ will share £200,000 between the 10 councils in order to provide a vital service for residents who don’t have the access or confidence to use digital platforms, an area that continues to require improvement.
The councils selected to receive the share of funding range far and wide across the country:
Colchester Borough Council; Huntingdonshire District Council; Kent County Council, London Borough of Croydon; London Borough of Richmond upon Thames in partnership with the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames; London Borough of Tower Hamlets; Middlesbrough Council; North Yorkshire County Council; Shropshire Council; The Royal Borough of Greenwich. Local Councils already recognise the need to deliver a better online experience in order to help their communities, with 89 percent of councils having transformed one or more services using digital or data solutions, but there is still more that can be done.
Statistics show that up to 21 per cent of Britain’s population lack the basic digital skills required in order to benefit from using the internet. This makes it not only essential for councils to have the relevant information and funding required to help their community digitally, but also to provide earlier digital access to those who need it.
The services will provide residents with support, assistance and one-to-one mentoring and it is expected that residents who lack the skills or infrastructure to go online will be the ones who benefit the most. It will also teach those who may not have been well educated in digital skills and wellbeing previously.
Similarly, councils need to continue their own digital improvements, and this funding should allow essential services that they provide to become more modern and efficient.
It has been estimated that full digital uptake could add £63 billion to the UK economy – for local economies and for their resident’s wellbeing. The benefits will include promoting independence, reducing loneliness, and reducing the risk of falls.
But as councils have faced a decrease in funding and an increase in demand, they have found new ways of using technology to deliver services.
- Shropshire Council will use the funding to support residents over 65 years-old to get online by working with them to develop their skills, confidence and helping them to overcome motivational barriers. The delivery of their digital outreach programme will use ‘Digital Champion’ volunteers to support the residents.
- Colchester Borough Council pledged to make Colchester town centre the best connected place in the East of England, and did so by providing 850 small-medium sized enterprises and 1,100 residential addresses access pure-fibre gigabit broadband. This improvement has enabled businesses to increase sales, profits and productivity, as well as identify new markets in which to work. The improvements has also saved on general costs, including reducing on carbon emissions with smarter use of energy, materials and water.
- Pilot schemes from Leeds City Council are beginning to be implemented in the city with an aim to increase connectivity. Within tower blocks Wi-Fi is provided to residents as a free to use general service, and the benefits hope to include increasing digital inclusion and improved access for Leeds City Council staff, NHS staff and others when visiting these tenants.
- Croydon London Borough Council is providing one of its most deprived communities with improved access to online council services and internet connectivity. The aim is to enable the community to manage their welfare claims and various accounts with the council online, reducing the dependency on the council and avoiding residents falling into rent areas.
Councils are trusted to deliver over 900 services every single day and are the heart of their communities, but without essential funding and support the services that they provide may not be effectively delivered.
The hope is that these councils, having received the funding, will now be able to ensure more residents enjoy the wider benefits of increased digital inclusion, including giving residents 24/7 online access.
The aim is to build cohesive communities through increased digital inclusion and councils are working extremely hard in order to achieve this.