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Greater Manchester launches digital inclusion taskforce

The group including industry, community and government representatives will aim to fix the digital divide in the region

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has launched a new digital inclusion taskforce to address the shortcomings of the region in that field.

With senior representatives from the industry, community groups and local government, the group will aim to address the barriers of digital exclusion and inequality in internet access, through a joined-up approach informed by local needs and shared learning, resources and expertise.

The taskforce will be meeting for the first time on 10 December, and the group is calling on anyone who is active in the digital inclusion space or benefits from people being online to get involved and help in addressing barriers such as connectivity, accessibility, affordability, skills, motivation and confidence. Registrations to attend the launch meeting are now open.

“Access to the digital world should be a basic human right; everyone in Greater Manchester, whatever their age, location or situation, should be able to benefit from the opportunities digital brings,” said Sean Fielding, GMCA lead for employment, skills and digital.

“I want us to continue to work with government, industry, communities and the voluntary sector to level the digital playing field, and would encourage anyone with a stake in digital inclusion, or those who benefit from our people being online, to get involved and help us shape this important agenda,” he said.

As many as 1.2 million people across Greater Manchester are estimated to be currently excluded in some way from the opportunities the internet brings, according to analysis from the University of Liverpool and the Good Things Foundation.

The study also suggests that more than 700,000 people in the region are only using the internet in a narrow or limited way, while a further 450,000 are classified as non-users.

Read more about digital exclusion in the UK

Digital inclusion plays a key role in the Greater Manchester living with Covid-19 resilience plan. The taskforce launch follows the announcement of the Greater Manchester Technology Fund at the start of the pandemic, where GMCA, Virgin Media and ANS Group are involved.

The initiative aims to address the gaps in support and provide over 500 devices to “digitally marginalised” students who didn’t have the technology or connectivity means to access school or support systems and continue to learn from home.

Another project focused on the Manchester region, launched in June, is a £3m fund from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the GMCA and the Lancashire Digital Skills Partnership, which is being used to fund projects aimed at getting under-represented groups into digital.

The fund is aimed specifically at helping more than 600 under-represented or disadvantaged groups in the Greater Manchester and Lancashire area into tech jobs by helping the development of projects to support businesses and residents plug local skills gaps in creative, digital and tech roles.

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