Can we afford not to invest in digital inclusion?

This blog post was originally written at www.helenmilner.com

Two years ago, we commissioned A leading digital nation by 2020 – a report which, for the first time, set out the cost of getting everyone in the UK online. The report has been instrumental in helping us, and other partners in the sector, to make the argument for further investment in digital inclusion. It was a core part of Labour’s Digital Manifesto in the run up to May’s general election, and Policy Exchange and TechUK both featured it strongly in their manifestos in the run up to the election. It’s also given me the chance to chat to lots of partners across various sectors about how we get the investment we need for digital inclusion.

It’s become clear that not only do we need to need to know the cost, but we also need to be able to clearly measure the value this will translate into – for individuals, and for the UK economy as a whole. And this is why we commissioned expert economic researchers CEBR to examine the economic impact of digital skills for all.

I’m pleased that I can share the resulting report today. As we anticipated when we commissioned the report, the benefits are huge. In terms of productivity alone, there is a benefit of £358 million per year for individuals, and £243 million per year for government in additional revenue (from 2024 onwards). And the cost savings that government will realise from tax receipts and NHS savings alone will mean the investment will pay for itself. Coming just ahead of Wednesday’s Spending Review, I hope this figure will make government sit up and listen, and commit to further funding for digital skills activity.

These savings are on top of the huge social benefits to individuals of basic digital skills, from reduced isolation through to cost savings (£143 per person, per year), and time savings (30 minutes per person per transaction).

Digital is bringing about a new industrial revolution, and all jobs and workplaces are now underpinned by digital technology. This means it’s vital that we can provide people with the skills they need to both find employment, and to use digital technology on a day to day basis in their work, leading to major rewards not only for individuals, but also for national productivity. We strongly believe the UK government needs to set out a bold ambition of reaching a 100% digitally skilled nation, to ensure we’re not left behind as other nations make huge strides towards the same goal. The quicker we get there, the bigger the prize for the UK and our global competitiveness, so it’s now vital that we can accelerate current programmes, and make a significant financial and strategic commitment to reaching this milestone. This report follows quick on the heels of David Cameron’s recent pledge to invest £1.7 billion in fast broadband for all. Investment for digital skills must go hand in hand with broadband, to ensure we can realise the maximum benefit.

We need clear and committed leadership from government, and a cross-departmental digital inclusion strategy backed up by a clear action plan and financial investment. But it’s not the job of government along. This commitment should be back up with support from both the private and the voluntary sector, who have equally important roles to play.

What’s most important now is what comes next. This report provides a clear rationale for investment – the question in no longer whether we can afford to get everyone in the UK online, but whether we can afford not to.

Read the full report: The economic impact of Basic Digital Skills and inclusion in the UK

Next: Digital Inclusion: Digital skills funding awarded in Scotland

20 November 2015

SCVO has awarded £195,000 to 19 projects across Scotland, with BT Scotland contributing £25,000 to 7 additional projects.