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It’s not enough to digitise services; residents need tech skills

Alison McKenzie Folan
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Last month, the digital and culture minister Matt Hancock said the digital sector is growing twice as fast as the wider UK economy.

While I welcome this announcement I can’t help but think: are we doing enough to inspire the future generation to take up digital?

In March, LGC named Wigan the Digital Council of the Year and this month we’ve recently been shortlisted for the GovDelivery Transforming the Citizen Experience Award. But what does it really mean to be digital?

At Wigan our digital strategy focuses on a wide range of areas, contributing towards the £60m of savings we need to make over the next four years. We’re doing this while still improving the customer offer.

The strategy includes increasing digital connectivity to boost business, grow digital skills and tackle digital exclusion.

Modern technology has transformed the way residents access council services. A third of people in Wigan now access council services online such as council tax, benefits, housing rents, registrars, waste services and environmental reporting. We also have apps for reporting environmental issues and supporting smoking cessation and weight management for residents.

Prince harry visits wigan

Prince harry visits wigan

Prince Harry visiting Wigan and seeing the Blair Project’s work

People of all ages and backgrounds have learned new digital skills through training courses delivered across libraries. In the past year alone we have reached more than 8,000 residents, helping to tackle digital exclusion and our digital champion volunteers have provided 5,215 support hours.

We’re making real progress but if we’re going to take advantage of the digital sector growth then we need to be ready. Employers are competing for skills that not enough people possess, so we need to make sure our children are ready to take up these opportunities.

Last year we found that more than 8,000 children didn’t have regular access to the internet at home, preventing them from learning those vital skills. Through our Deal for Communities investment fund we pledged £500,000 to help community groups deliver this aspiration. The response was overwhelming.

One of those groups is The Blair Project, which uses motorsport to engage and inspire young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and digital industries. They’ve made 3D products and even a racing car. Prince Harry was amazed with what they could do when he visited in July. A few days later local primary school children launched Lego characters into space as part of a computer coding project we’ve been running, which has reached over 1,800 children across the borough.

If we’re going to take advantage of the digital opportunities then we need to find a way to engage with our children. We owe it to our future generations.

Alison McKenzie-Folan, director of customer transformation, Wigan MBC

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