The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has announced ambitions for the city-region to become one of the first in the world to equip all under-25s, over-75s and disabled people with the skills, connectivity and technology to get online.
Mr Burnham said that ensuring residents can get online, access public services and develop their digital skills will drive positive social and economic change for both people and businesses.
He also believes that it will help to position Greater Manchester as the key city-region for businesses seeking a digitally-skilled workforce.
The announcement comes after recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 176,000 Greater Manchester residents have not accessed the internet at all in the last three months.
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has estimated that this includes 1,300 under-25s, 93,000 over-75s and 77,000 disabled people.
More broadly, Ofcom figures suggest as many as 1.2m Greater Manchester residents might be digitally excluded in some way, for example by feeling unable to use online banking or engage with public services online.
For some people, this is about access to kit and connectivity, but for others it is about skills or confidence.
As part of this new ambition, the Mayor has established a Digital Inclusion Action Network to lead targeted action to combat digital exclusion within these target groups in Greater Manchester and will be led by people with lived experience within the groups.
The new action network will work closely with the Greater Manchester Digital Inclusion Taskforce and enable the Mayor to work in collaboration with businesses, local authorities, voluntary and charitable organisations to drive forward this ambition.
Commenting, Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham said: “The pandemic has highlighted invisible inequalities and increasing social divides.
“We have all seen more of our lives move online and this risks excluding those who do not have digital connectivity.
“Closing the digital divide now needs to become a much higher priority. The time is coming where we need to see digital connectivity as a basic human right.
“Without it, people will be shut out of the conversation, lose access to essential services and miss out on a whole range of opportunities.
“This is why I am setting a new ambition to help all under-25s, over-75s and disabled people in Greater Manchester to get online.
“We want to create a new drive involving partners from public, private and community sectors to provide the kit, connectivity and skills that people need.
“The new Digital Action Network and the Digital Inclusion Taskforce will be the driving force behind this new ambition to fix the digital divide across Greater Manchester.
“Greater Manchester is the fastest growing digital and tech hub in Europe and is increasingly seen as the UK’s leading digital city-region.
“Setting a new ambition of helping all under-25s online sends an important message to potential investors about our commitment to improving digital skills.”
Last year, the GMCA launched the Digital Inclusion Agenda for Change, with the goal of becoming a 100% digitally enabled city-region.
To deliver this ambition, the Digital Inclusion Taskforce was launched, bringing together both public and private sector organisations to address the barriers of digital exclusion and the digital divide in a co-ordinated and focussed way.
Fixing the digital divide is a key focus of the Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint, a three-year plan which sets out GMCA’s commitment to being named a world leading digital city-region that puts residents at the heart of its plans.