The Big Lottery Fund (BIG) has invested £15m to aid Go ON UK in its mission to make the UK the world’s most digitally skilled nation.
In addition, the Prime Minister has made a call to businesses to support the drive. Still under development the BIG programme will open for businesses to apply for the funding this autumn. BIG has pledged to fund a small number of UK-wide projects.
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According to the ONS Internet Access 2012 - Households and Individuals report published in February of this year 7.4 million UK adults (15%) have never used a computer or the internet. Furthermore, 16 million people in the UK currently lack basic online skills to confidently and safely make use of digital tools available to them.
The cross sector charity, Go ON UK has eight chief executives on its board – Age UK, BBC, Big Lottery Fund, E.ON, EE, Lloyds Banking Group, Post Office and TalkTalk.
Speaking to Computer Weekly, Graham Walker, chief executive of Go ON UK, said: “The idea is to overcome the perception of the internet and to equip people with the necessary digital skills and tools so they can safely be online.”
Walker added: “We will be looking for national organisations, with good community reach, that can come forward and offer face-to-face support. The fund is not for kit, platforms or apps for example but to offer support with a focus on face-to-face training and strategies.
“Getting our message out there is a peer-to-peer thing. The internet is for the whole population, not just for geeks - it empowers you to be better informed.”
Walker said businesses are being alerted now to give them time to develop applications demonstrating strong cases on how they would use the fund to turn the disconnected into confident online users.
More on IT skills
Big Lottery Fund chief executive Peter Wanless said: “We expect to fund only a handful of significant projects, so competition will be intense.”
Baroness Lane-Fox, chair Go ON UK, said: “The Big Lottery Fund’s digital skills investment helps us deliver on Go ON UK’s objective to secure vital investment to build the digital skills of people and organisations across the UK. But we need other organisations to play their part and follow suit.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “If we are to succeed in the global race, it is vital that we ensure our people and businesses recognise the opportunities that the web offers and have world-class digital skills. That is why this government is supporting Go ON's ambition to make the UK the world's most digitally skilled nation.
"We are investing around £1bn in our digital infrastructure to ensure that everyone in the UK has access to fast, reliable broadband. These changes will reinforce the UK’s position as a leading digital economy and will help to create local jobs and national growth.”
North east pathway
Go ON UK has also unveiled plans to kick start a skills delivery programme in the north-east of England, from October.
After successful cross sector partnerships in Liverpool, the organisation plans to take the Go ON Liverpool model and make digital skills a regional priority for the north east.
Go On Liverpool included £100,000 of funding from BIG and reduced the number of people offline in Liverpool by 55% in 18 months.
On plans for the north east, Lane Fox explained: “We are confident we will be able to provide further evidence of the impact of partnership working to drive up digital skills and build a replicable partnership model that we can the roll out across the nation over the next 18 months.”
Walker said: “We have proved that the Liverpool model works, so we are now looking to do the same thing but on a larger scale. The flavour of Go ON UK is 'lets supercharge what communities are already doing by helping them'.”
In June 2011, some 104,000 adults (29%) in Liverpool had never been online compared with 17% nationally. Over 18 months 1,500 digital champions were recruited to deliver training and in turn 43,000 new internet users were born.
The campaign was backed by all 90 local councillors and 80 local partners showed their support by promoting the Go ON UK message to their local community and outreach.
Labour promises £75m for digital skills
This week shadow media minister Helen Goodman announced Labour would invest £75m in a new digital skills programme if re-elected. The programme would focus on getting more people online and improving digital skills, funded by halving the size of the government’s current super-connected cities programme.
Last year, the government earmarked £114m from its £830m broadband investment pool with the aim of transforming ten UK cities into “super-connected cities” by 2015.
Previously the government has pledged to invest £830m in delivering the best broadband in Europe, including the extension of mobile coverage.