Jeff Cuthbert, Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
Today I am publishing a revised Digital Inclusion Delivery Plan, which provides an update on progress since 2011 and sets out ambitious targets for the next three years to ensure as many people as possible can benefit from being online.
Developments in devices like smartphones and tablets, improvements in internet speeds and easy to use online services have enhanced the digital experience for users and 79% of people in Wales now use the internet, compared with the estimated 66% in 2010.
Positive progress has been made towards all of the targets set out in the 2011 Delivery Plan. The focus has been on those who are least likely to be online: older and disabled people, those who live in social housing and the unemployed. Latest figures from the National Survey for Wales show continued improvements in internet use across each of these priority groups.
However, not everyone is benefitting from the digital revolution. As more and more vital public services move online, those that remain digitally excluded are in danger of being left further behind in society. Much more needs to be done to ensure the people of Wales are able to use digital technologies to enhance their lives and help overcome disadvantages they may face.
This is why the Digital Inclusion Delivery Plan has been revised to include actions and targets to reduce digital exclusion levels further over the next three years. I am confident that these targets, whilst stretching, are achievable. By continuing to work with partners across the third, private and public sectors, and utilising the levers we have in place to maximum effect, we can build on the recent progress that has been made.
Through our investment in Communities 2.0 we have helped to support over 42,000 individuals gain the confidence and basic digital skills to use and benefit from being online. The Communities 2.0 programme and other digital inclusion activities taking place at a local level are having a significant impact on the lives of individuals. Hundreds of organisations and community groups have also benefitted from advice on increasing capacity and sustainability through the use of digital technologies. In the final year of Communities 2.0 an extension into the remaining non-convergence areas of Wales (Cardiff, Newport, Monmouthshire and Vale of Glamorgan) enables Communities 2.0 to adopt a genuinely national approach to tackling digital exclusion. Later this week I will be attending an event to launch these additional activities, which will provide help and support for thousands more people across the entire country.
Strengthening alliances with key stakeholders including local authorities, housing associations, public libraries and Job Centre Plus, will continue to be vital in achieving our targets. In particular, public libraries continue to have a crucial role in promoting digital inclusion, providing free internet access and support to individuals and acting as an intergenerational hub across our communities. As library services come under pressure in some areas, it is important that the full range of services that libraries provide is fully recognised.
As part of the overarching Digital Wales strategy, progress will be reported in the Digital Wales annual report. The plan recognises that improving the digital skills of communities can lead to greater economic opportunities, a more equal society and improved social cohesion. Digital skills are becoming a necessity in the workplace as well as in society. In addition, maximising the benefits to individuals from our investment in next generation broadband infrastructure is vital. Digital inclusion work, delivered through Communities 2.0 led sessions, will align to Superfast Cymru roll out areas to help raise awareness of how peoples’ lives can be enhanced by making the most of the opportunities that superfast broadband can offer.
Whilst we continue to provide strategic leadership to tackling digital exclusion, this is an agenda that all sectors and wider society need to buy into. We have come a long way in helping to get more individuals to use and benefit from the latest digital technologies. Many more organisations across all sectors are embracing digital inclusion, recognising the importance of this agenda, both to themselves and to their customers. However, there is still a long way to go, with far too many individuals and organisations missing out on the opportunities digital technologies present.
The revised Plan aims to reinforce the importance of this agenda so digitally excluded people are not left further behind as the inevitable shift to digital services, including vital public services, continues.
The Digital Inclusion Delivery Plan is available on the digital inclusion pages of the Welsh Government website. A copy is also attached at Annex A to this statement.