Connected North: Digital Inclusion; no one left behind Panel
Our Director of Policy, Gareth Elliott hosted the ‘Digital Inclusion; no one left behind’ panel at this week’s Connected North 2023 event in Manchester.
He was joined by industry leaders including Dr Emma Stone, Good Things Foundation; Beena Puri, Digital Innovation and Partnerships Lead, Greater Manchester Combined Authority; Hayley Hughes, Citizens Advice Manchester; and Jason Tutin, Leeds City Council.
The panel discussed a plethora of subjects relating to connectivity and digital poverty, particularly relevant during the ongoing cost of living crisis.
Panel members offered opinion and suggestions to alleviate digital poverty and bolster digital inclusion.
Some key points that came out during the discussion were:
- The National Digital Inclusion Strategy has not been updated since 2014. Since then, we have seen a lot of advancements in mobile connectivity and networks, making updating this strategy extremely important.
- Mobile UK and the UK Mobile Network Operators have been working with the Good Things Foundation to help people digitally excluded. One million gigabytes (GB) of data have been pledged which will help an estimated 40,000 people to get connected.
- Beena Puri shared examples of current work being done by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to tackle digital exclusion. They have set up a digital exclusion task force and the Manchester Data Bank as part of the Mayor's strategic priorities.
- Hayley Hughes from Citizens Advice Manchester stated how digital inclusion involves teaching digital skills and understanding them and authorities need to consider this when trying to combat digital poverty. While connectivity across the country is vital, it is equally important that local authorities design their online services with the digitally excluded in mind. For instance, websites that are difficult to use will deter people from logging onto them.
- Leeds City Council showcased how councils can act as enablers bringing together people who are digitally excluded via services provided by organisations such as Citizens Advice, Good Things Foundation and other local charities and community groups.
Gareth Elliott highlighted Mobile UK’s Digital Champions campaign which has been running since 2022. He stressed the need for digital champions embedded at local government level across the UK to coordinate digital connectivity and inclusion strategies, urging the government to provide support for these. He emphasised that complete digital inclusion will only be possible when there is a collaborative effort to achieve it.