• New Greater Manchester Digital Inclusion Taskforce set up to address the barriers to digital inclusion and fix the digital divide across the city-region 
  • Greater Manchester has set the bold ambition to become a 100% digitally-enabled city region 
  • Vodafone launch emergency support package for school and college students to provide them with the connectivity to do work from home 
  • Research suggests as many as 1.2 million people across Greater Manchester could be excluded in some way from the opportunities that digital brings 

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority is gathering senior leaders, industry, community groups and local government to drive ambitions to be a 100% digitally-enabled city-region with the formation of a new Digital Inclusion Taskforce. 

Recent analysis from the University of Liverpool and the Good Things Foundation, suggests as many as 1.2 million people across Greater Manchester could be excluded in some way from the opportunities that digital brings. Over 700,000 people in Greater Manchester are only using the internet in a narrow or limited way and a further 450,000 classified as 'non-users.' 

The Greater Manchester Digital Inclusion Taskforce, which is due to meet for the first-time next week, aims to address the barriers of digital exclusion and the digital divide, in a co-ordinated and focussed way, informed by local needs and sharing learning, resource and expertise. 

This joined-up approach which is bringing together key players from across the UK is already having an impact. Earlier this month, Vodafone launched a UK-wide schools.connected programme to address data poverty for digitally-excluded young people in schools providing 250,000 sim only data packages, with unprecedented demand. As a response, Vodafone have announced an extension to their programme now offering data connectivity support to college students.  

The schools.connected programme will help students to access learning resources remotely and ensure they can stay connected to peers and support, especially during the winter months. Schools and colleges will be able to order data SIMs to give to pupils who find it difficult to access education from home because they don’t have the right connectivity.  

Councillor Sean Fielding, GMCA Lead for Employment, Skills and Digital said;

“I’m proud to announce our intention that Greater Manchester be a 100% digitally enabled city-region, a region that puts people at the heart of our plans. 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 opportunity's digital brings. 

“Young people in Greater Manchester, as part of the new Young Persons Guarantee, have identified keeping connected as a key issue that needs addressing to protect their future. This announcement from Vodafone is important in highlighting and addressing the connectivity issues that young people continue to face, getting connectivity to the students that need it most.   

“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.”      

Earlier this year the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham announced the development of a Young Person’s Guarantee in Greater Manchester for those who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Guarantee will reflect young people’s concerns about the future and will offer an outline of support and opportunities available, building on what is already available, as well as identifying and responding to gaps. 

Lisa O’Loughlin, Chair of Greater Manchester Colleges’ Group and Principal of The Manchester College said:

“We are delighted that this generous offer from Vodafone has now been extended to include further education colleges. Across Greater Manchester the 9 FE colleges work in every borough with many of our most digitally excluded young people, including an estimated 1 in 5 of the Colleges’ 30,000 young learners who lack the necessary connectivity or equipment to study at home, as required during Covid.  

“The Greater Manchester Colleges’ Group is collectively working on a blended learning project to ensure all its learners benefit fully from online learning, and the support of this initiative will make a significant contribution to their education and future life chances.” 

Mo Isap, Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership Co-chair, said:

“Our ambition is to become a world-leading digital city-region, but we can only achieve this by becoming fully digitally enabled. All residents and businesses have equal access to the opportunities on offer. 

 “Tackling digital exclusion and promoting fair access is an enormous challenge, and one that we sometimes underestimate. The new Digital Inclusion Taskforce reflects the spirit of collaboration that exists in Greater Manchester. Through partnerships, networks and industry organisations we’re more collaborative than we ever have been before, and this spirit must endure if we want everyone to benefit from the city-region’s strength in digital.” 

The Digital Inclusion Agenda for Change will be underpinned by an action plan that is sustainable and scalable and focusses on a system wide approach of cross-sector collaborations and capacity building for community organisations and local authorities. 

Digital inclusion is a prominent objective in Greater Manchester’s Living with COVID-19 Resilience Plan as the region sets to address the challenges of rebuilding economic resilience in a challenging climate, ensuring that residents are at the heart of the region’s recovery.  

At the start of the pandemic, GMCA, Virgin Media and ANS Group contributed to the Greater Manchester Technology Fund to address the gaps in support and provide over 500 devices to young learners who were facing months of further isolation without the technology or connectivity to access support systems, connect with peers and continue their learning at home which helped to alleviate the burden faced by schools who were struggling to connect with digitally-marginalised students through paper-based contact and socially-distanced home visits. 

Greater Manchester senior leaders are calling on anyone who has a stake in digital inclusion or benefits from people being online to get involved in the Taskforce and help in addressing barriers like connectivity, accessibility, affordability, skills, motivation and confidence.

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