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Newcastle squares up to government: "You need to rethink your digital skills approach"

In its submission to the Labour Digital Government Review, Newcastle City Council has called upon the Government Digital Service (GDS) to revamp its approach to digital inclusion.

According to the local authority, it is essential that citizens have both access and skills to use government digital services, but more needs to be done to ensure this happens.

The council proposes that the UK requires “attractively presented” joined up digital services rather than a series of digitised applications – for example, a digital library service.

Newcastle claims that Whitehall must support local government and community agencies in encouraging more people to use online services, especially those from disadvantaged environments.

“We need to encourage a culture of digital for pleasure (supporting people in using email, Skype, leisure-based Internet sites etc…) to make it easier for them to migrate to more transactional digital services and to build digital fluency and confidence,” claims the document.

Read more: Closing the digital skills gap: How to grow a new generation of IT professionals

It adds that digitisation should make processes simpler, easier to use and more accessible – making it a positive opportunity for greater inclusion, not less.

“Too often the negative risks of exclusion are presented as barrier which slows the pace of development,” claims Newcastle.

To combat this problem, the local authority suggests that inclusion policies must address issues such as lack of opportunity caused by things such as the cost of an IT connection and a lack of ICT skills education.

It adds that low cost and no cost chances to access digital services must be offered along with mentoring and support those who need a little extra help to get online.

“Government should also encourage innovative technology directly targeted at improving outcomes for disadvantaged groups,” claims the council’s submission.

“For example, [we] were a joint winner of O2’s Local Government Digital Fund with a project to develop an app to support and enable young people with SEN statements and adults with learning disabilities to travel independently,” it adds.

Newcastle suggests that Whitehall develops a “roadmap” in conjunction with local government for digital inclusion activities.

It adds that a nationally orchestrated and funded digital inclusion programme may help close the gap between the development of government digital services and digital exclusion.