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Spare Time to Help Others Access Digital Worlds?

An ambitious new project has been launched in Britain with the declared aim: ‘Go ON UK aims to bring the benefits of the internet to every individual and every organisation in every community across the UK’. To state it even more boldly: to make the UK the technology hub of Europe!

Who Wants To?

On their website the organisation describes themselves as ‘a radical cross-sector partnership to make the UK the world’s most digitally capable nation where no one – old or disadvantaged- and no organisation – even the smallest – is left behind’. It is a mission statement with a powerful, and much needed, message.

They have put together an impressive sharing partnership or coalition, from a national broadcaster, a bank, a utility company, a telecoms provider, a community retail network, a charity and a funder who have pledged to work together with the Government to ‘help make the UK the world’s most digitally capable nation in which everyone and every organisation is able to enjoy the social, economic and cultural benefits of the internet’.

If individual members mean what they say, then pooling resources, reach, networks and expertise should indeed reap rich rewards. The new body is chaired by UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox and includes Mark Thompson Director General of the BBC, Tom Wright, CEO of Age UK, Dido Harding, CEO of TalkTalk and Paula Vennells, Chief Executive of Post Office Limited.  It is also supported by expert organisations such as Childnet, One Voice, e-Skills UK and UK online centres.

Why Do They Want To?

The rationale is unarguable, the bald figures of British need speak for themselves and the sources are impeccable:

  • Only 14 per cent of SMEs sell products and services online (Lloyds Banking Group/ BDRC April 2012)
  • ICT is the biggest skills-gap in the charity sector (NCVO)
  • 8.2 million people have still NEVER used the internet (ONS Labour Force Survey Feb 2012)
  • the internet contributes more to our GDP than to that of any other G20 country and is predicted to grow 11% a year to reach £221bn by 2016 (Boston Consulting Group Jan 2012).

The solutions need to be investing in super-fast broadband and ‘transforming public services to be ‘digital by default’. Locally, Suffolk and Norfolk County Councils are currently engaged in campaigns among businesses and individuals to put pressure on investors and Government for broadband that reaches a universally acceptable speed, which it doesn’t outside metropolitan centres at present.

They say that as digital skills become essential in education, employment, information, consumer spending/saving and social contact, still over 8 million UK adults remain offline (ONS Labour Force Survey Feb 2012). They lack the equipment to get online; even more lack the confidence to use technology to a working level.

Over 80% of older people who are computer literate, according to research from Age UK feel more part of contemporary society.

Digital By Default

Appointed by the Government to address the digital divide in British society and the economy, Martha Lane Fox, the digital entrepreneur best known for founding lastminute.com, told Matt Warman, Consumer Technology Editor of the Daily Telegraph (23 April 2012) that she is making an economic case for digital inclusion.

She wants businesses and charities to go ‘digital by default’. At present only just over 10% of small businesses have transactional websites, insufficient workers and volunteers expect to be familiar with the internet and the enormous and complex British charity sector means the scope for digital development is boundless.

One message for business people must be: can you help? Mentors from business go into schools now to encourage enterprise and assist with literacy skills. Could the computer literate give some spare time to ensure that people of all ages and all walks of life are comfortable accessing cyberspace?

Sources:

Go On UK.

The Daily Telegraph, Matt Warman interview with Martha Lane Fox, April 2012.

Image: Greg Henshall, US  Federal Government