The results of a national survey have found Manchester to be the most digitally inclusive city in the UK.
Analysis carried out by Uswitch mobiles examined the number of databanks, digital inclusion hubs and digital skills workshops on offer nationally, finding that in Manchester there were 11 digital inclusion hubs per 100,000 population.
The Council is incredibly proud of this recognition, given the work which has taken place in recent months to put in place a long-standing plan to combat issues such as digital exclusion, generational poverty and health inequality.
Since 2020 the Council has had a dedicated digital inclusion team based within the Libraries Service. The ‘Let’s Get Digital’ campaign has, to date, supported more than 6,000 Manchester residents get laptops, access to cheap broadband, as well as enhance their digital skills.
More recently, all Manchester libraries have become databank centres where people struggling to pay for mobile data are able to request a donated SIM card. So far more than 1,000 people have benefitted from these donated SIMs.
The team is also set up to act as a consultancy for any organisation which wants to embed digital inclusion into their service and be set up as a digital inclusion hub. At the moment, the team is working with more than 50 organisations in this capacity, with groups such as Age UK Manchester, the Booth Centre and Rainbow Surprise.
Earlier this year Manchester City Council was invited to attend and contribute to the House of Lords inquiry into digital exclusion and the cost of living. The inquiry produced its report last month, which concluded that "the Government must publish a new digital inclusion strategy and establish a new cross-government unit with direct input from Number 10".
As well as boosting the role of place-based in-person initiatives, one of the recommendations within the report calls for immediate and decisive action on removing barriers to internet access.
Manchester City Council has recently worked with JCDecaux to roll out free and safe public Wi-Fi across 22 city centre smart screens. Over 26,000 users have accessed the service to date since its launch in May, with a 27% increase in users between June and July.
Alongside this work the Council recently launched the Making Manchester Fairer initiative, a five-year plan, the aim of which is to tackle all the social and health issues that cause inequality and mean that some people die too early. Addressing the digital divide, to make the benefits and opportunities of the internet and digital technology available to everyone, is one of the many great social – and health equity – challenges.
Steps taken so far include working with drawing up a new anti-poverty strategy which draws on a wide range of local and national expertise to tackle poverty and its causes.
Councillor John Hacking, Executive Member for Skills, Employment and Leisure said: “To be recognised as the best local authority for digital inclusion nationally is vindication of the hard work we have been doing in recent years.
“In today’s world it is essential that communities are connected to a range of services which more often than not exist online. If people are left digitally isolated we run the risk of deepening the impact of poverty by failing to provide a lifeline out of it.”
Councillor Adele Douglas, Chair of the Manchester Digital Inclusion Steering Group, added: “Through our work on inclusion, tied to the wider Making Manchester Fairer plan we hope that eventually every one of our residents will be connected to the support they need.