Salford launches ambitious ‘8,000’ online drive

Salford is already home to the second largest cluster of digital businesses in the UK. But now the city wants more of its residents to become digitally savvy in a unique and ambitious project.

Salford City Council has announced an ambitious plan to get almost 8,000 of the most vulnerable and digitally excluded residents online and confident about using technology within two years.

The Good Things Foundation, the UK’s leading digital and social inclusion charity which has brought two million people online since 2010, will work with Salford City Council and says it is the most ambitious local authority digital inclusion plan it has ever seen.

Deputy City Mayor Councillor Paula Boshell said: “This is one of the biggest challenges we have ever undertaken as a council.

“So much of society is moving online nowadays – from claiming benefits and applying for jobs to cutting bills through finding cheaper deals. There’s also the social side of technology – using it to connect with groups and people to reduce isolation and improve people’s health and wellbeing.

“People who cannot get online, for whatever reason, are missing out on opportunities that could really improve their lives.

“In addition, Salford City Council has lost 47% of its government funding since 2010 with more cuts to come. We are having to transform the way we deliver services by encouraging people to self serve online where possible to free up staff time to deal with more challenging queries. It’s also a response to the change in society where people expect to be able to pay bills, report issues and find information 24/7.

“We’re aiming to get some of the most socially excluded people online – everyone from older people who live alone and who have never used a computer to people who have no secure roof over their heads. If people can find sustainable jobs, save money and feel happier and healthier, the return on our investment in terms of saving money for public services will be huge – and part of the project will be to try and measure that impact on the local economy.”

 

Removing barriers

Councillor Boshell said the plan will include research into what barriers prevent people getting online and tackling those, partly through providing tree technology in places where people go.

“We already have free IT in all our libraries and will be investing £100,000 in replacing and upgrading all of that over the next four years. In addition, we want to create a digital network of community centres to take the technology to the places people go and are familiar with.

“We also want to look at helping people get lower cost technology in their own homes and recruiting volunteers to help them get the skills and confidence they need. We’re already working with Barclays Digital Eagles to train council staff to boost their IT skills and train colleagues and hope to work further with Barclays, TalkTalk, which is based in Salford, and Lloyds, partners of The Good Things Foundation.”

Almost 13% of Salford residents say they have never been online compared to 7% of Londoners, while 24% in Salford don’t have the basic digital skills considered essential these days compared to 16% in the capital.

Good Things Foundation, which is based in Sheffield, will work with Salford City Council to build up a network of community centres to act as digital hubs where people can get support. The project will also create a network of volunteers to act as digital champions so it can be self-sustaining after the two years is up.

Salford City Council is also looking to work private sector partners including Barclays, Salford-based TalkTalk, and Lloyds, partners of Good Things Foundation, to provide access to low or even no cost broadband and devices.

Adam Micklethwaite, Director of Digital Inclusion at The Good Things Foundation, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to be helping Salford City Council create a truly digital city.

“Digital skills and inclusion are fundamental for economic success and social justice, and the programme will provide an important pillar of the council’s strategy. As well as helping thousands of Salford residents improve their lives with digital, we’ll be creating a movement for change and a sustainable community infrastructure across the city that can continue to support digital inclusion into the future.

“It’s a landmark investment from a council with vision, commitment and ambition.”

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