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West Midlands refreshes digital strategy

Combined authority’s 2021-2026 digital roadmap aims to address the digital divide and make the West Midlands the most digitally connected region in the country

West Midlands Combined Authority has published a five-year digital strategy, setting out how digital connectivity will help the region’s economy to “bounce back”.

The digital roadmap has five missions for the next five years, including securing access to digital opportunities for everyone.

The West Midlands has the highest number of non-internet users in the UK, as well as the highest proportion of employers saying they find digital skills hard to obtain from job applicants.

The combined authority aims to work with local authorities, the third sector and community groups “to form a digital inclusion ‘coalition’, reducing the number of internet ‘non-users’ in the West Midlands from the highest level nationally down to the UK average (22% to 15%)”, the strategy said.

“The coalition would share best practice on issues like hardware loans and voucher schemes, and use our collective voice to leverage more investment from the public and private sector,” it added.

The authority also aims to ensure that “all digital content is accessible and that nobody is left behind by a move to digital-by-default – this includes disabled people who may access content in a different way that is suitable for their needs”.

Other stated missions include sharing and using data to improve people’s lives, becoming the best-connected region in the UK and realising the potential of digital to transform the economy and build economic rescilience.

The authority said the region currently has “limited equity investment – lowest deals per 10,000 SMEs of any English region”, and aims to partner with Be the Business to support the “diffusion of digital technologies in micro firms and SMEs” and develop “a regional scale-up offer targeted at digital and tech firms, to improve retention of high-growth firms in the region and increase equity investment”.

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West Midlands mayor Andy Street said: ‘The roadmap sets out an ambitious plan for the West Midlands – to become a technologically advanced, forward-looking digital economy, where everybody has access to the internet and data is used to improve our public services.

“Imbedding the latest technology into our economy will also help us reach net zero, where innovation still has a huge role to play in reducing the burden on us to change the way we live our lives.”

Street added: “Growth has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but despite the adversity, there is also opportunity. The pandemic has accelerated the switch to digital and highlighted the need for a better-connected economy.

“To bounce back, we must weave digital into the way we do business. This means more digital bootcamps to train us for the jobs of the future; more digital devices to connect our residents to opportunities; and more innovation to help us reduce our carbon footprint and save the planet.”

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