Council libraries service to provide tablet computers and training via community organisations ahead of roll out of universal credit
Leeds City Council has set up a tablet computer ‘lending library’ in a bid to improve access to the internet and digital skills ahead of the roll out of universal credit in the city.
The council's libraries and information service will initially provide 150 iPads on referrals from organisations working with vulnerable people across the city, although it has applied for further funding to double this number.
The initiative, part of a broader digital inclusion programme, follows a pilot in which the council lent 30 iPads to care leavers, refugee training organisations and neighbourhood groups that work with older, isolated people.
Organisations requesting that their service users can borrow tablets have to fill in an expression of interest form that asks who will use it and how they will benefit from being online. The council will maintain contact with the organisation throughout the lending period of one month, with an option to renew.
The iPads on loan will come loaded with 5Gb of data. While the council will not be able to track individuals’ use of the internet, it will be able to obtain anonymous usage data.
“We can see of those out on loan, reports of what they’re being used for,” said Jason Tutin, digital and learning development manager in the library and information service where the digital inclusion team is based.
The team will, however, note any interaction with the council’s website and tablets will come pre-loaded with council owned apps such as its bin collection app.
All data from previous users will be wiped from the iPad when returned to the council using a mobile device management solution that also allows tablets to be remotely tracked and locked to protect data if the device is lost or stolen.
Digital skills training
Alongside the lending scheme, Leeds City Council libraries will provide 20 weekly digital inclusion training sessions. "The most difficult thing is motivating people to get online," said Tutin. "There are reasons for that – they are likely to have multiple barriers. We want to address those barriers."
The council will also offer digital skills training to organisations' staff to allow them to improve service users' ability. "At the moment there are lots of random people and organisations doing digital inclusion across the city – there's no central point of contact. We're trying to empower organisations to train end users," he said.
The council has allocated £350,000 of internal funding for its digital inclusion plans, covering the tablet lending initiative, a new digital inclusion team and strategic support from digital inclusion charity Good Things Foundation.
Some of this funding came from the council's housing department, as it gears up to move some of its services online and introduce universal credit this October.
If successful, Tutin said the council’s application for further external funding would be used to allow the team to set up a digital inclusion grants fund for community organisations (for example, for broadband connectivity) and pay for the digital inclusion team’s salaries for another year.
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