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Ministers must ensure no one is left behind by the digital revolution

Ministers must ensure no one is left behind by the digital revolution

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4 min read

The Government must do more to invest in those communities that are currently not well-served by digital technologies to make sure they do not fall through the net of progress. 

Sometimes the pace of change catches me by surprise.

One minute I’m feeling quite delighted at having got to grips with uploading videos to Twitter, the next my Parliamentary team are snapping photos of me for my Insta account. Before I know it I’ll probably be on TikTok. 

Meanwhile, thanks to Covid, work meetings have shifted online, I’m attending Parliamentary debates from my lounge, and potentially now staring down the lens at a Zoom-based Christmas dinner. 

The rapid acceleration of digital working, and a more digitised life, brought on by the Covid crisis will have obvious advantages to some. But for others it is actually making life harder. 

Take many of my constituents in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross who, like me, struggle with poor connectivity and slow browsing speeds.

Many still do not have access to any broadband, let alone high-speed broadband. With such poor infrastructure, it is virtually impossible to conceive of how communities like mine can avoid being left behind as this digital revolution continues apace. 

As Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, I know that digitisation brings enormous opportunity.

But I beg the Government to do more to invest in those communities that are currently not well-served by digital technologies to make sure we do not fall through the net of progress. 

As the Government boasts of plans to “level-up” the UK, Ministers must first ensure that every community has the infrastructure to benefit from the digital revolution that is sweeping onward.

To date, in my patch, we have seen post offices, banks and other services disappear at a rate of knots, leaving my constituents strapped for cash (not that anyone is taking cash these days), and unable to access basic financial services without - in many cases - driving for miles and miles. For those who are not mobile, the growing isolation they face is extremely alarming. 

As the Government boasts of plans to “level-up” the UK, Ministers must first ensure that every community has the infrastructure to benefit from the digital revolution that is sweeping onward.

That means universal, high quality internet access available at reasonable cost.

Investing in this now will serve the country during what looks to be a difficult future. 

Beyond the need for fast and reliable internet access, technological change can be daunting for other reasons.

Jobs are changing as technology evolves.

Many of the millions of people who may face redundancy as a result of Covid-19 will be terrified that they will not be able to find new work, because they simply don’t have the relevant skills to break through. 

That is why I am joining my colleague Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson, in calling on the Government to back our party’s plan for ‘Skills Wallets’, which would give everyone £10,000 to spend on life-long education and training.

This would be made up of an initial £4,000 Government investment when people turn 25, a further £3,000 when they turn 40 and, finally, another £3,000 at the age of 55. 

Finally, as well as vital investment in skills and training, the Government must make sure people are confident about how to access services digitally, from healthcare appointments to council services to online banking. 

Right now, millions of people, especially those who are elderly or isolated, may be at sea when it comes to using these types of technology.

Ministers must focus on finding new ways to support those who are struggling, and signpost where they can go for support in using new technologies. 

The digital revolution is already transforming everyday life.

With the right approach, digital technology could transform access to services for all, including the most isolated communities.

But this requires investment in internet infrastructure, a focus on lifelong learning, and real commitment to assisting individuals struggling to access online services.

Ministers have a duty to do all that they can to ensure no one is left behind. 

 

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