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Government commits to cutting digital exclusion by a quarter



A new government-backed push to digital inclusion begins today with a promise to cut the percentage of people lacking internet skills by 25% every two years. Announcing a new digital inclusion strategy, the Cabinet Office minister Nick Hurd pledged to reduce the number of people who are offline by 25% by 2016. This means that 2.7 million more people will be online.

The initiative is backed by 40 public, private and voluntary sector organisations who are committed to reducing the number of people who are offline by 25% by 2016, and a further 25% every two years after that, the Cabinet Office announced.

Annual research published by the BBC suggests that 21% of the population lack basic digital skills and capability. Lloyds Bank also revealed in its UK Business Digital Index that half of Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) and Voluntary and Community Social Enterprise organisations (VCSEs) have a website and only 18% of VCSEs and SMEs take payments and donations from their website.

The Digital Inclusion Strategy includes a national programme of support that will bring together funding for digital skills projects, ensuring that the government avoids isolated action. "This will open up the market to new providers, improve partnership working and give service providers greater clarity."

Actions from the government and partners will include:

- Urging businesses to expand their role in tackling digital exclusion. For example Asda will launch a national programme of free face-to-face advice sessions on going online in 60 of its stores with The Tinder Foundation.
Vodafone will release a new Smartphone Guide and publish a report on the important role smartphones can play in closing the digital divide later this month.

- Boosting the digital skills of small and medium enterprises and third sector organisations through events and masterclasses in conjunction with Go ON's national programme and Lloyds Bank has launched its UK Business Digital Index, which will be used to measure the digital skills of SMEs and VCSEs for the first time. This will help SMEs and VCSEs grow their digital capabilities and assess what support they need.

Hurd said: "As Sir Tim Berners Lee reminded us in the London Olympics Opening Ceremony, the Internet is for everyone. We do not want people to feel excluded, our mission is to make Britain the most digitally capable country in the world. A more digitally-skilled nation will help us to boost our economy and strengthen communities. This new partnership is about making it easier for people to build their digital skills and confidence, with the aim of reducing the number of people offline, so that by 2020 everyone who can be online, will be."

Graham Walker, CEO Go ON UK and Baroness Lane-Fox, Chair Go ON UK stated: "Working in partnership is key to ending digital poverty and equipping small businesses and charities with the digital skills they now need to succeed. We welcome the Government's new Digital Inclusion Charter, that builds on Go ON UK's work to get private, public and voluntary sector partners to make commitments towards a shared national action plan. We are committed to working closely with the Government Digital Service to continue to make the case for greater investment in basic online skills by partners in all sectors"

This is the first major central government push for digital inclusion since Gordon Brown's government appointed Martha Lane Fox as "champion for digital inclusion in June 2009.

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