Report from the Strategic Director for Finance and Customer Services.
The Chair invited the Leader to introduce the report. He outlined that digital exclusion was a challenge for some people in Rotherham and the lack of digital access could have a detrimental impact on residents. The associated problems of poor digital access could be significant for citizens and families contributing to educational and economic disadvantage, health inequalities and increased social isolation.
The Rotherham Place Digital Inclusion programme was established in 2021 to gain a better understanding of the extent to which digital exclusion affected local communities; and to identify the barriers that prevent people accessing and benefiting from online services and digital channels.
Through consultations held with a wide range of local people, the cross-organisational Digital Inclusion Stakeholder group had co-created a digital inclusion strategy and action plan designed to target those in the borough that are most at risk of digital exclusion.
The purpose of this report was to provide an update on the progress of the Rotherham Place Digital Inclusion programme and seek endorsement and support to the approach undertaken.
The community engagement exercise highlighted that the following groups were more the risk of digital exclusion: older people, people from more deprived backgrounds people with long-term health conditions and younger people. It was also highlighted that certain locations in the borough faced greater challenges, for example East Herringthorpe, Central Rotherham and Maltby. This could relate to lack of access to devices, poor access to reliable broadband or affordability.
The Council was working with Rotherham North Notts College and students had engaged with residents directly to help address some of these issues. Community drop-in sessions were organised to provide information and support, including links to skills training. Free sim cards with a data allowance had been allocated under the national databank project. This was currently offered from Riverside House and the scheme would be rolled out to libraries in Maltby, Rawmarsh, Dinnington and Swinton. Staff had been recruited to support the project.
The Assistant Director for Customer Information & Digital Services outlined that matched funding had been received from health partners for the duration of the action plan and there was a commitment to look at long-term sustainability of this work.
The Chair invited questions from Board Members and a discussion on the following points ensued:
· Clarification was sought on engagement via postal surveys and focus groups in areas of higher deprivation. It was highlighted that the postal survey was sent to a random sample of residents who had been contacted for a previous engagement exercise. The survey findings had been used to inform the action plan and areas of focus.
· Details of how the programme would be rolled out on areas of greater deprivation was sought. It was outlined that work was underway with health and third sector partners to identify suitable venues for delivery, particularly in those areas which did not have libraries or customer service centres.
· A question was asked about the programme’s long-term sustainability and how existing infrastructure or gaps in provision was mapped. It was felt that achieving digital inclusion would be an ongoing challenge and further work was needed with local communities. It was highlighted that the support staff would link with local groups and opportunities to build capacity. The work with the local college was welcomed.
· Clarification was sought if there safeguards in place to protect vulnerable people from digital exploitation (e.g scams). It was confirmed that digital safety was a key part of the programme.
· It was also highlighted that the purpose of the programme was to enable residents to access online information to improve their personal lives, including access to education, job searching or leisure activities. It was noted that local elected members had a good understanding and awareness of local groups and facilities within their wards.
· With reference to the strategy to renew wifi across those Council buildings in long-term use, clarification was sought if this could be rolled out to community centres or other venues. It was noted that the programme operated within limited resources, therefore it was not feasible to renew wifi across all areas.
1. That Cabinet be advised that the following recommendations be supported:
1) Notes the work undertaken to date as part of the Digital Inclusion programme.
2) Endorse the co-designed Digital Inclusion Strategy and support the approach being taken to help people and communities who are most at risk from digital exclusion