The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) is setting up a new a new Digital Inclusion Taskforce.
Consisting of representatives from local government, community groups and industry, it is due to meet for the first time next week to look at co-ordinating efforts to break down digital barriers in Manchester.
GMCA said it will focus on local needs and sharing learning, resources and expertise, with a series of cross-sector collaborations and capacity building for local authorities and community organisations. This will support the city-region’s Digital Inclusion Agenda for Change.
Recent analysis from the University of Liverpool and the Good Things Foundation suggests that as many as 1.2 million people across Greater Manchester could be excluded in some way from digital opportunities. Over 700,000 are only using the internet in a narrow or limited way and a further 450,000 classified as 'non-users'.
Mo Isap, co-chair of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, commented: “Our ambition is to become a world leading digital city-region, but we can only achieve this by becoming fully digitally enabled. All residents and businesses have equal access to the opportunities on offer.
“Tackling digital exclusion and promoting fair access is an enormous challenge, and one that we sometimes underestimate. The new Digital Inclusion Taskforce reflects the spirit of collaboration that exists in Greater Manchester. Through partnerships, networks and industry organisations we’re more collaborative than we ever have been before, and this spirit must endure if we want everyone to benefit from the city-region’s strength in digital.”
As part of the announcement, GMCA highlighted a move by network operator Vodafone to expand its programme to support digitally excluded young people with SIM-only data packages, making it available to college students as well as school pupils.
Lisa O’Loughlin, chair of Greater Manchester Colleges’ Group and principal of The Manchester College said: “We are delighted that this generous offer from Vodafone has now been extended to include further education colleges. Across Greater Manchester the nine FE colleges work in every borough with many of our most digitally excluded young people, including an estimated one in five of the colleges’ 30,000 young learners who lack the necessary connectivity or equipment to study at home, as required during Covid.
“The Greater Manchester Colleges’ Group is collectively working on a blended learning project to ensure all its learners benefit fully from online learning, and the support of this initiative will make a significant contribution to their education and future life chances.”