Do you think, if there was a way for the country to make almost £2 billion with a small investment, the Government would take that opportunity?
I’m really hoping that they will. The Government has a chance to help reduce our country’s north/south divide, expand opportunity, and kickstart our economic recovery.
At the Conservative Party Conference, the Government committed to ‘building back better.’ And when you hear terms like this, investments in big, ambitious technologies like AI and gigabit broadband tend to spring to mind.
Of course, these are important – we absolutely need to harness the power of these innovations to maintain our world-leading digital economy.
But in order to do that, we need to ensure we invest in essential digital skills so that everyone can feel the benefits of technology and boost their own finances – as well as the country’s. COVID has shown how tech can’t be treated as an afterthought – it’s vital for our jobs, for contacting our families, for keeping ourselves and our contacts healthy, and for building communities.
Indeed, at least 82% of jobs require digital skills, and manual workers with high digital skills earn around £2,160 more a year than those in the same jobs with low digital skills. But access to tech and those higher salaries is unequal across the UK. Whilst 49% of people in the South East are capable of using the internet fully, only 18% in the North East are able to do so.
Clearly, the digital divide is the regional divide – we need a plan which can fix both.
Last month, we at Good Things Foundation published our new Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included UK – or the Digital Blueprint, for short. One of our core proposals was a ‘Great Digital Catch Up,’ focused on providing our country with the skills and training it needs to rebuild.
Investing £130m over 4 years – just 2% of the broadband budget – the Great Digital Catch Up would use our existing network of digital skills centres to give 4.5 million people the tools they need to use the internet independently. It would help millions to cross the digital divide, fire up our post-COVID economy, and level up opportunity across the UK. And put £1.92 billion back into the economy.
A Great Digital Catch Up would be the equivalent of spending £29 per person. By comparison, a single GP appointment costs £31.
So for the cost of one GP appointment per person, we can also help tackle major issues like social isolation and health inequalities by improving access to digital healthcare – with significant economic benefits.
Analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research in 2018 found that, for every £1 invested in digital skills, we see a £14.80 return. By this methodology, a Great Digital Catch Up scheme could lead to a total economic return on investment of £1.92 billion over the next decade.
That is a staggering yield – one which could kickstart our recovery and help bring about a fully digitally included UK.
Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has made his plans for the future clear. He wants to see “a recovery that will be tech-led, but will benefit all.”
Our Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included UK provides a crucial first step for building this inclusive, innovative recovery. One where we can bridge the north/south divide, reduce social isolation, and generate almost £2 billion in economic growth.
Let’s hope the Government takes this opportunity to invest in digital skills and truly build back better – for everyone.