This morning, I attended Go ON’s Digital Skills summit, alongside a number of high profile digital leaders, as well as Skills Minister Matthew Hancock, and Danny Alexander – Chief Secretary to the Treasury. One of the things that impressed me most was the commitment from private sector organisations who really want to be part of the solution. As not-for-profits, we need to work out what we should be asking for in order to have the biggest impact possible, and working closely alongside these partners to ensure we can all achieve our shared goals.
One exciting things to come out of the event was the announcement by the Big Lottery Fund that they are making £15 million available for digital skills as part of a fund that will open in the Autumn. The fund will support a small number of large projects, and they are really keen to support partnerships that can have a massive impact in their communities.
The news comes neatly on the heels of my blog last week where I said that funding is vital to ensuring we can support the final 7.4 million people in the UK who have still never been online before, as well as upskilling the 8.5 million who don’t have the skills to get any benefits from the internet, so I’m really pleased the Big Lottery Fund are getting behind digital inclusion in a serious way. Since I wrote last week’s blog and heard the announcement, I’ve been thinking about what the right co-ordinated plan is – what would it do? And what would it cost if we’re aiming to get 95% of the population online? I’ll admit that I don’t have all the answers, but we know that the lowest-hanging fruit is getting higher and higher up the tree and that inspiring and persuading people that the internet could be for them is a really tough job. To be successful, this new programme has to be about targeting the very hardest to reach people in local communities, as well as collecting robust evidence on the impact the activity has had.
I’ll certainly be keeping a keen eye out for more announcements from Go ON UK and the Big Lottery Fund about this fund, and I’m sure the UK online centres network will have a key role to play in ensuring its success – and I hope that this investment will have a huge impact on finally closing the digital divide.