As a (some would say) tireless campaigner for digital inclusion, I was pleased to hear Helen Goodman MP announce yesterday (9 May) that, if they were to be elected, Labour will invest £75 million in a new digital skills programme, funded by halving the size of the current super-connected cities programme. I’m well known for being on the side of the people in the pipes vs people debate, and so while I can see the economic argument for investing in these ten cities, I actually think the economic benefit of supporting the hardest to reach to access services online can have an equal – if not far greater – impact. Those in the most deprived communities are least likely to be online as well as being the most likely to be the heaviest users of public services.
Helen Goodman MP said in her announcement: “A Labour government would invest £75 million to ensure that people in Britain are able to get online and are able to perform basic tasks like sending an email. The Conservative-led government has done virtually nothing to help these people and instead has focused on using public money to subsidise ultra-fast broadband in areas that already have very high broadband speeds. This is yet another example of the government getting its economic priorities wrong. A One Nation Labour government would be about ensuring everyone was able to benefit from the advantages online access can bring.”
It’s good to have some more ‘skin in the game’ or another ‘voice in the debate’ on digital inclusion. The support that Online Centres Foundation receives from the current Government is fantastic and enables us and the UK online centres network to help over 100,000 people a year. However there isn’t a debate at the moment on how much money needs to be invested to help the final 16 million people to get the motivation and skills they need to take part in a fully digital Britain, and accelerate growth with a better skilled nation. Helen Goodman seems to be kicking off that very conversation.