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Winning the race for a digital nation

Source: Public Sector Executive April/May 2014

Helen Milner, chief executive of the Tinder Foundation, a not-for-profit staff-owned mutual improving digital skills, discusses what needs to happen to get everyone online.

It’s clear that the government is committed to digital. By the end of this year, the move across to GOV.UK will be complete, consolidating old websites and bringing more transactional services online. It’s a big investment, but according to the Cabinet Office’s November 2012 Strategy Report, savings of £70bn by 2020 can be realised by digitising its activities.

Of course, channel shift isn’t a new idea. Councils began presenting council tax balances and statements online in the early 2000s, and there are a lot of ways you can now interact with government online – something that will continue to increase over the coming years. Socitm has previously estimated English council savings through channel shift could be between £134m and £421m for ‘front office’ processes alone.

For a while now, Martha Lane Fox, Go ON UK and Booz & Co have answered “£63bn” to the question “what’s the total potential benefit – not just savings – of the UK becoming a leading digital nation in the global economy?”

£63bn – so the benefits are clear. It’s a pretty big number, but it doesn’t work without 100% of the nation being online. So how do we get there, and what will it cost? 

In partnership with Go ON UK, we’ve just launched a new report that answers that very question – how much will it cost to get the whole nation online – ‘A leading digital nation by 2020’.

We commissioned Catherine McDonald to author the report and work with us, consult key stakeholders, and build a mathematical model where we could test certain assumptions and calculate the investment needed. She calculated what it would cost to get 100% of the UK population to become regular internet users with basic online skills by 2020. The total investment needed would be £875m.

Having established a price, our report suggests the investment should be split three ways – across the public, private and voluntary and community sectors. That’s £292m for each sector. Or, £50m per year, per sector (cash and in-kind) over the six years until 2020.

Let’s think about the inputs:

• 11 million – number of people in 2013 who don’t have basic online skills

• £875m – investment needed to help 100% of the population gain the internet skills they need by 2020

• £292m – investment split across the three sectors

• £50m – annual investment over six years required from each of the public, private, and voluntary and community sectors

• £47-£319 – calculated range of costs of intervention per person, depending on people’s historical use of the internet and other considerations

• 89% – percentage of the UK online in 2020 without additional and accelerated investment.

And now, let’s think of the outcomes that will deliver:

• £108m – estimated savings for the NHS if just 1% of their face-to-face visits were converted to NHS Choices visits

• £1.7bn – Government Digital Service figure on potential savings per annum of a digita by default government

• £560 – potential average of household savings if a family starts to shop and pay bills online

• £63bn – Booz & Co total figure for the potential benefit of becoming a leading digital nation in the global economy.

So the inputs – in investment and support – might seem pretty big, but of course the prize is as well. It’s not just about services online – the benefits of that are already clear. This is about the UK leading the way in becoming a digital nation, reaping rewards for individuals, small businesses and the nation as a whole. It is possible to get to 100% of the population using the internet, countries like Norway have proven that high-90%s is a real possibility.

Read the report, do your own maths and draw your own conclusions. The report and mathematical model are both on the Tinder Foundation website. All we need to do now is agree that we want to make the vision a reality: a vision of 100% of our citizens with basic online skills and the UK as a leading digital nation by 2020. Let’s be ambitious and let’s get on with it. It’s a race we can win. 


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