UK councils join forces on digital divide data

18th May 2021 Sarah Wray

Fifteen local authorities in England have teamed up with an educational charity and management consultancy to better understand and address the digital divide.

The issue of digital inclusion has come to the fore for cities around the world during the pandemic as everything from working and studying to socialising moved online.

The ‘CCIN Policy Lab: Understanding the Digital Divide’ initiative is run through the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network (CCIN) where local authorities collaborate on shared challenges.

A statement from Sunderland City Council, which is part of the network, said: “By building a more robust data picture of who is experiencing digital exclusion, including insights into where they are, the barriers they face in accessing services and social contact online, and the interventions that would most effectively support them to become more digitally engaged, Sunderland City Council and a consortium of partners are paving the way to better understanding the digital divide and tackling digital poverty.”

The other authorities are: Barking and Dagenham Council; Cardiff Council; Cheshire West and Chester Council; Greater Manchester Combined Authority; Kirklees Council; Knowsley Council; Newcastle City Council; North Hertfordshire District Council; Oxford City Council; Plymouth City Council; Rochdale Borough Council; Southampton City Council; South Tyneside Council; and Tameside Council. They are working with Red Quadrant Management Consultants and The Workers’ Educational Association (WEA).

Internet as utility

The Shaping the COVID Decade report, published by the British Academy in March, highlighted eliminating the digital divide as one of the key policy priorities to help repair the “profound social damage wrought by the pandemic”.

It states: “The existing geographical and socioeconomic inequalities in digital access across the country should be tackled as they remain a primary barrier to levelling up. The issue is so fundamental that government and other actors could treat investment in digital infrastructure as a critical, life-changing public service, taken forward with the same zeal that we saw in 19th-century Britain with the railway boom or, in the 20th century, the construction of the national grid.”

Solutions to provide access to skills and devices are also a priority. The UK Consumer Digital Index 2020, commissioned by Lloyds Bank, found that 22 percent of people in the UK do not have the digital skills needed for everyday life, such as the ability to manage money, shop, access government services or find a job online.

Key outcomes for the CCIN Policy Lab include delivering a replicable ‘Let’s Talk Digital’ resident consultation to inform strategic planning. The group will work to improve understanding of available data on digital exclusion as well as exploring how more and better data could be gathered. There will also be a focus on strategies for adult digital skills and targeting access to digital learning within community venues.

A report on key takeaways will be produced, including a local authority case study on how data has been used to understand and address the digital divide in a specific community, such as the unemployed.

Image: Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com

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