Digital You

Debbie Brown, director of service reform at Salford City Council, discusses the authority’s major digital ambitions to get everyone – even some of the most socially excluded groups in the region – online.

Alice can now Skype her family in Australia while John is learning how to manage his arthritis and is getting helpful tips from others who have it too. 

Paul and Jenny, both on low wages, have saved money by getting a better electricity deal; Jean and friends are using YouTube to continue line dancing after their class closed.

Those are just some of the benefits already coming from Digital You – Salford’s ambitious plan to get 8,000 of its most vulnerable and digitally excluded residents online and confident about using technology in just two years. It’s all part of Salford’s ambition to be a digital city.

Good Things Foundation, the UK’s leading digital and social inclusion charity which has brought over two million people online since 2010, is working with Salford City Council and has called it the most ambitious local authority digital inclusion plan it has ever seen.

“It’s one of our biggest challenges, but so important,” said deputy city mayor, Cllr Paula Boshell. “Salford is already home to the second largest cluster of digital businesses in the UK and superb digital learning and training for young people, so the employment potential is huge. But in Salford 13% of people have never been online compared to 7% in the capital, and 24% don’t have the essential basic digital skills compared to 16% of Londoners.

“More and more, society is going online. People apply for jobs and claim benefits online. They save money by finding cheaper internet deals and use technology to maintain contact with family or friends and find information, support and contacts to stay healthy and reduce isolation. People who cannot get online, for whatever reason, are missing out on opportunities that could really improve their lives.”

Cllr Boshell added: “We’re aiming to get some of the most socially excluded people online – everyone from older people who live alone and who have never used a computer to people who have no secure roof over their heads. If we can find and overcome the barriers to getting online, be they cost, technology or skills, and boost people’s health and wealth, it will save money for public services.

“We are also recruiting volunteers to be digital champions and share their enthusiasm for the internet and technology.

“Salford City Council has lost 47% of its government funding since 2010, with more cuts to come. We have to do things differently and digitally; if more people can self-serve, we can better support those who can’t.”

Earlier this year Salford became the first council to partner with Barclays to train staff as Digital Eagles. We’re also working with Salford-based TalkTalk to explore the potential for cheaper technology and Lloyds, partner of Good Things Foundation, also supports our plans.

Funding for the project, £180,000 – around £22 per head – is coming from money set aside by the council for transforming services. Salford City Council will also invest £100,000 over the next four years upgrading all IT in its libraries, which already provide free IT and internet access.

Adam Micklethwaite, director of digital inclusion at Good Things Foundation, said: “Digital skills and inclusion are fundamental for economic success and social justice, and the programme will provide an important pillar of the council’s strategy.

“As well as helping thousands of Salford residents improve their lives with digital, we’ll be creating a movement for change and a sustainable community infrastructure across the city that can continue to support digital inclusion into the future.

“It's a landmark investment from a council with vision, commitment and ambition.”



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