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More struggling or falling victim to cyber crime through lack of digital skills

FOR most people, the decision by Lloyds Banking Group to close 60 UK branches this summer passed without undue concern, but for millions in the UK who don't go online, it's a devastating blow to their independence. But as with many other services; from shopping to paying bills to learning or finding work; banking is easier online. And as the cost of living ratchets up, the digital divide widens for those who are offline - there are better deals to be had online - from energy suppliers through to discounted goods and services.

While the Pandemic has turbocharged the digitisation of daily life, some 4.3 million people in the UK still have no digital skills at all (Government figures), 5.4 million working adults are without basic digitals skills, while 1.7 million UK homes don't have internet access, according to Ofcom's latest figures. Health, social care and education are now further from reach without a connection.

Digital exclusion tends to go hand in hand with social disadvantage, lower earnings, age or disability, say digital access charities. 55% of employees earning less than ₤20,000 a year say they haven't used the internet in the last 3 months, a Lloyds Banking Group report revealed last year. Now 90% of businesses say they expect employees to have basic digital skills. But in March this year, the think tank NESTA warned that the UK is heading towards a digital skills crisis which will cost the country billions of pounds down the line.

Investing in boosting people's digital knowhow more than pays for itself. Every pound spent on digital inclusion recoups ₤15, according to research by the Cebr (Centre for Economics and Business Research) for charity Good Things Foundation. If the entire UK population were taught basic digital skills, this would net ₤22 billion by 2028. At a personal level, it can transform job prospects, health and wellbeing.

How to bring the digitally excluded on board has concerned Government and employers. Infrastructure is one part of the problem; rural households are far less likely to have the fastest broadband, though the Government has pledged to address this; but subsequently made less cash available. After installation costs, paying for ongoing internet is another problem, currently addressed by discounts from a few providers such as BT and by charitable donations; broadband is yet another expense to add to household bills, and an estimated 2.5 million in the UK are behind on paying for it (Citizens Advice).

Another problem is how to help people acquire skills, although this is a cheaper hurdle. Good Things Foundation estimates that ₤130 million investment in skills could halve the UK's digital gap over four years. But without intervention, a quarter of the UK will still have low levels of digital engagement, according to the latest consumer index.

To meet this need, local Colleges and education providers are offering Essential Digital Skills Qualifications (EDSQ), which meet specific needs identified by the Government, and they're free to anyone across the UK who doesn't have a level 2 IT qualification, regardless of what they earn.

Cambridge Skills are offering a new accredited EDSQ course from Gateway Qualifications, which has been rolled out nationwide, A Senior Manager at Cambridge Skills, Angelina Winn, said:- "I'd like to encourage anyone who needs support or perhaps just a brush-up when it comes to digital skills to get in touch... These new free courses can help people regain their independence - they're incredibly practical and very useful."

With the 2nd highest unemployment in London at 69.1%, Barking and Dagenham Council recognised its residents needed more. "Essential Digital Skills are just that: essential," says Donna Lomas at The Adult College Barking & Dagenham, which has introduced Gateway Qualification's essential digital skills course. "Ee live increasing in a digitalised world. Shopping, banking, making appointments, contacting family and colleagues; all of the aspects of being a fully functioning member of society; are now underpinned with digital technology."

As well as job skills, these courses offer life skills; helping individuals get hold of better social or family support.

Courses also confront the risk of online scams, by teaching individuals how to spot suspect messages and websites, and understand methods used by scammers. And there are serious consequences to a lack of tech savviness, says Lomas. "We now have the challenges of cyberbullying and online radicalisation, as well as increased risks from viruses, identity theft and scams. Learners need support in navigating the risks and benefitting from the opportunities."

Persuading people to take these courses can be problematic, says Emma Langlois at Manchester Education Service, which chose Gateway Qualifications as it was the 1st to pass Ofqual's technical evaluation. Previous courses had seemed out of date and weren't appealing to new audiences, she says:- "We wanted a curriculum that better reflected how we use 'digital' today, and that was accessible through different devices."

Tracking down new and offline takers for the course took some ingenuity, she says; her team targeted residents with:- "Old School" printed ads and features in local papers, even phone boxes. This is important; in Greater Manchester there are more than 1000 victims of fraud and scams every month. At the same time, some 1.2 million residents in the Region could now be digitally excluded since the Pandemic.

Digital and financial inclusion are inextricably linked, says the Good Things Foundation, which is calling on the Government to end what it calls data poverty in the UK by 2024. A digital education programme needs true commitment from leaders before it can get:- 'buy in' from millions who feel left behind by the rapid digitisation since the Pandemic. "It's so encouraging to hear how essential digital skills are making a difference to people's lives," says Carol Snape, Chief Executive of Gateway Qualifications. "We're continuing to work hard with providers across the country as they support adults and young people from all walks of life to:- 'upgrade to digital.' Not just for work or promotion but for parenting and everyday successful living."


Liverpool City Council Governance consultation letters being delivered

HOUSEHOLDS in Liverpool are starting to receive letters outlining how they can take part in a consultation over how the City should be governed. The letter has a secure link to an online portal, to answer the question:- "How would you like Liverpool City Council to be run?"

City Solicitor, Dan Fenwick, said:- "The Council wants to give as many people as possible the chance to have their say over the future Governance of Liverpool City Council, which is why we are writing to every household. I encourage everyone to look out for the letter and take part. Full details of how to participate can also be found at liverpoolourwayforward.Com. In addition, we are also happy for people to email or write in with their views on a change. A consultation is the only way that local people can express a preference for all three available Governance models, and we have made the process as clear and simple as we can. People's views in the consultation will be reported back to the Council, which will make the final decision on whether to keep the mayoralty or move to a different model of Governance from May 2023."

The options are the three forms of Governance that are allowed by law:-

By a Mayor who is directly elected by voters every 4 years (current system)

By a Leader who is an elected Councillor, chosen by a vote of the other elected Councillors.

By 1 or more Committees made up of elected Councillors.

The documentation on the website includes a summary of how the consultation is being conducted and information about the models of Governance and how they are different.

There will be instructions available in multiple languages, to make it as accessible as possible.

Paper copies of the voting form are available on request for those without internet access.

An information campaign in support of the consultation is also getting under way this month to raise awareness and encourage participation.

A referendum on whether to change Governance arrangements was ruled out by Full Council on cost grounds as it is estimated it would have a price tag of ₤450k, compared to approximately ₤120k for the consultation.

A consultation is also the only way that residents can express a preference between all three Governance options because a referendum can only be a choice between the mayoralty and one other option.

The webpage with details of the consultation; which will be ongoing, until Monday, 20 June 2022, and can be found at:- LiverpoolOurWayForward.Com. Views are welcome from any resident or other Liverpool stakeholders. Email:- GovernanceConsultation@Liverpool.Gov.UK or write to:- Electoral Services, Liverpool City Council, Cunard Building, Water Street, Liverpool, L3 1AH, They should include:- their name, address and postcode; this is to ensure we do not receive multiple responses from a single person. A Privacy Notice setting out how we process information is available at:- LiverpoolOurWayForward.Com.

The outcome will be reported to Full Council and the elected members will then make the final decision on whether to change Governance arrangements, taking into account people's views. If Full Council agrees to make a change in Governance, it will take effect from the elections in May 2023 and will be binding on the Council for 5 years. It will still be possible to hold a referendum in this period if a petition of 5% of electors is presented to the Council asking for a referendum of Liverpool electors to vote on whether to change Governance model.


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