If you are looking to start a digital inclusion programme, and want to know how to gain funding and put a team together, this is a great place to start.
Many local councils across the UK have already started their own digital inclusion programmes. We have been speaking with a number of these councils and we’re here to share their stories and experiences of how they found their initial programme funding and structured their teams.
Start by finding out how digital inclusion could enable other council priorities
A common starting point for many councils is to work out how to attract funding from other council departments. How can you persuade another department to give you some of their budget? Make the point that digital inclusion is an enabler to deliver many other priorities and goals.
By helping to improve digital skills, access and engagement amongst target groups in your area, you can help those departments to meet their own goals.
An example from housing
As an example, you could seek funding from housing, to help them improve the number of housing tenants who can create and manage an online housing account. By using housing funding to increase the numbers of tenants who manage their account online, you could be helping housing to meet a target to decrease call centre contacts and to increase self service management. They give you funding and you help them meet their goals.
Understanding how digital inclusion and improved digital access of citizens aligns with the business and department needs of all council departments will help you to make the case for funding digital inclusion initiatives. Having a wider understanding of digital exclusion as an important social issue can make it easier to then make the case for further investment.
Examples from local councils
For more detail on how different local councils have secured their initial funding, we have put together some examples from around the UK, including:
- county councils
- city councils
- combined authorities
Leeds City Council case study
Leeds City Council has one of the more established digital inclusion programmes in the UK, called ‘100% Digital Leeds’. Read our detailed case study on how 100% Digital Leeds secured investment in their digital inclusion programme.
Birmingham City Council - recovering from COVID-19
Birmingham City Council’s digital inclusion programme launched in November 2021 with community and business stakeholders with the support of senior council officers and two Cabinet Members, including the Deputy Leader. It came about as a result of the need to bounce back from the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Birmingham prioritised funding from its Community Recovery Fund in recognition of the importance of closing the digital inclusion gap highlighted and compounded by the pandemic. Crucially the strategy formed an important pillar as part of a wider recovery plan including the Birmingham City Council COVID-19 Economic Recovery Strategy.
The Cabinet Report detailed their response, including what they hoped to achieve to tackle increases in digital exclusion. It was agreed that £500,000 would be made available to fund a new team, over a period of 2 years. The plan and the funding was agreed at a cabinet meeting.
Greater Manchester Combined Authority - a Mayoral priority
Addressing the digital divide is a priority of the Mayor of Greater Manchester and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) digital inclusion programme came about as a response.
In October 2020 the Greater Manchester Digital Inclusion Agenda was launched, aiming to make Greater Manchester a 100% digitally-enabled city region. Find out more about the GMCA digital agenda.
Funding for this programme comes directly from the GMCA, which is a combination of 10 local authorities in the Greater Manchester area:
Funding is contributed by the 10 local authorities, with some specific funding received directly from adult education budgets. The wider GMCA strategy has helped to kick start work in local authorities, and they have brought in their own funding too.
It is recognised that digital exclusion is a facet of broader social exclusion, and different teams across the councils come together to support the strategy.
The digital inclusion team is a ‘matrix’ team which sits across different local authority teams. Each of the 10 local authorities has a digital inclusion lead. They coordinate action and are close to the community and therefore understand the local needs. A broader Greater Manchester cross sector task force also exists, to coordinate work across the entire region.
Pre-COVID, the Digital Blueprint was launched in February 2020. Digital inclusion grants were commissioned in each local authority, but a digital inclusion specific strategy wasn’t introduced until October 2020, due to the pandemic highlighting the need for such a strategy.
Dorset Council - promoting superfast broadband
Dorset Council’s digital inclusion programme began when the team promoting the adoption of superfast broadband realised some people did not have the digital skills necessary to get the most out of the new broadband network.
This awareness of the digital skills gap in Dorset led to the team working with an adult education provider to recruit some digital champions to help people in libraries. Gradually they developed a wider digital inclusion strategy.
The programme runs parallel to the connectivity programme and reports to the same Digital Place programme board. Initially a team of one, the council recognised the value of its work and now funds a team of seven.
Norwich City Council - responding to changes in Universal Credit
Norwich City Council’s digital inclusion programme started as a political aspiration, in response to changes in Universal Credit. Councillors were concerned that residents might not have the digital skills necessary to manage an online Universal Credit account.
The Head of Customer Service put together a bid to the central government Transformation Challenge award fund. They received £500,000 in funding, half to improve their website and half for a community skills support programme to help support people to up skill.
This has funded most of the council’s digital inclusion programme over the past 7 years, with extra activity funded by additional pots of external funding secured in later years.
The digital inclusion project coordinator was initially part of the customer contact team, then later moved into the strategy team. They work with teams across the council and wider stakeholders to ensure that digital inclusion is considered both in the council’s own service delivery, and in wider work on subjects such as equality and an inclusive economy.
Many ways to start your digital inclusion programme
As these examples show, digital inclusion programmes can begin from a variety of ideas and aspirations. By finding out what’s already happening in your council, you could come across an opportunity that could form the basis of your digital inclusion programme.
Improving access to broadband and digital devices and improving people’s digital skills can feed into so many other council priorities. Once you find these opportunities, you will be in a stronger position to secure investment in your digital inclusion programme.