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Digital consortium aims to develop digital inclusion project

A consortium of firms has come together to develop a project involving technology and local government partnerships to promote digital inclusion for those who are not digitally capable

A consortium of organisations has announced a project that will focus on collaboration between tech firms, local government and education providers to help reduce digital exclusion in Suffolk.

Cisco, Bronze Software Labs, GDS Digital Services, Suffolk County Council, West Suffolk Council, and University of Suffolk will work together on a digital inclusion project to help some of the one in six British adults who are not able to access the internet at home.

The aim of the project is to get people connected, help them to be more independent and increase productivity of public services.

Robert Everitt, cabinet member for families and communities at St Edmundsbury Borough Council, and representing West Suffolk Council, said: “We are always keen to look at ways of improving the wellbeing of our residents and this project will help make a real difference to people’s lives by providing support to people who are elderly and less able.”

A 21-month trial, funded by public body Innovate UK, will aim to create a viable business model that will help those involved to tackle digital exclusion, predominantly with the roll-out of secure broadband to around 200 homes in the Suffolk area.

Initially the project will target elderly or disabled people, as not only will they stand to benefit the most from being digitally connected and are least likely to adopt it, but they also rely heavily on public services such as adult social care.

In addition, the project will aim to help people who may have financial barriers to connectivity, as it is estimated that 80% of the government’s interactions with the public are focused on the poorest 25% of society.

Beccy Hopfensperger, cabinet member for adult care at Suffolk County Council, said: “With many of our services now online, it is more important than ever to ensure everyone has access to digital services. A vital tool for connectivity, this programme will also enable people to develop the necessary skills and experience to feel more confident online.”

Across the UK, more than 40% of people don’t have the digital skills to perform basic tasks, and a lack of connectivity or poor broadband is an ongoing struggle for many local governments.

For the Suffolk residents who are part of this new programme, there will be support from Suffolk County Council, or they will already be part of the not-for-profit Havebury Housing Association.

Loneliness can be a huge issue for elderly or disabled people in the UK, something which many think digital technologies could prevent.

As well as enable residents to use technology such as video calling for contact with family members and care professionals, public sector visitors to these properties will be able to remotely access public sector networks through unique certified connections to Cisco routers, which will help them to get their work done more efficiently.

Scot Gardner, chief executive of Cisco UK & Ireland, said everyone in the UK should have “equal digital opportunity”, including equal access to the same level of communication, healthcare services and access to information that having the internet can bring.

“The challenge up until now has been finding the right commercial model to deliver connectivity to all. This project will trial a way to engage people that makes sound financial sense, is practical and provides transformational benefits to everyone,” he added.

Cisco has been working to reduce digital exclusion across the UK through other projects such as its Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) strategy, which uses collaboration between government, industry and education providers to develop programmes which will accelerate digital innovation across the UK. This includes research into artificial intelligence (AI) and the digital economy, developing strategies for connected and autonomous vehicles, and assessing the potential for digital in the energy sector.

Many agree that the government, education providers and tech sector participators will have to work together to address the UK’s digital skills gap, both to create a future workforce that is fit for purpose and to enable the population to use digital technologies to navigate day-to-day life.

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