Across the UK, low digital skills track closely with, and amplify, financial and social deprivation. In Liverpool, the correlation is particularly marked, with just one in four people using the internet against the national average of one in five.
Liverpool Vision, the economic development company for the city, has turned this challenge of low internet use into an opportunity for regeneration and renewal. Despite today’s phenomenally tough spending environment, the city has set ambitious targets for bringing more of its citizens online, aiming to reduce the total figure by 25,000 by next March, the time of its Global Enterprise Congress.
Last month, Liverpool City Council unanimously passed a motion to really get behind driving digital skills in the city. The city’s ‘Go On it’s Liverpool’ programme will launch on the 22 October to dovetail with a massive national awareness-raising campaign, led by the BBC and supported by Race Online 2012. It will encourage all of us in who use the web everyday – 30 million of us – to use the hour we gain this month when the clocks go back to share those skills with one of the 8.7 million who’ve never used the internet.
Badged ‘Go On Give an Hour’, this month’s campaign will recruit and mobilize digital champions up and down the country. (Liverpool has set a target of 5,000 digital champions, 90 of them the city’s elected councillors).
There are over 3,800 UK online centres across England and 1,500 BBC First Click centres in the UK offering free or low-cost help and support to those starting out on the web. All sorts of other companies and charities are taking part, there’ll be sessions in post offices and branches of Lloyds, libraries and schools and about 50,000 scouts will be running community events to promote the drive.
Liverpool are using this initial awareness-raising activity as the first burst of a powerful and sustained programme to increase digital skills in the city, knitting the city’s local government, business and community networks with Race Online 2012 national partners and tools.
Besides the benefits for the city and its citizens, our Go On partnership with Liverpool will help build a roadmap for joined-up digital inclusion activity which I hope will both inspire and make it much easier for many more local authorities to demonstrate equivalent leadership.
The Go On Places model tackles both supply and demand through its four strands: digital infrastructure, local spaces where people can get support, digital champions and marketing/PR. Broadband Delivery UK, the vehicle for delivering government policies on these issues, has pledged to make these demand-generation programmes a condition of funding for the four-year £530m central government broadband infrastructure pot.
It’s not too late for any council to draw up a simple partnership pledge and to capitalise on this month’s landmark communications activity. Devise a Go On Places plan within your council: you can download communications toolkits from our website immediately (a greater range of resources will be ready by the end of this month.) This campaign will cover so much more ground if it is bedded down at the community level, for which local political leadership is key.