Large parts of the digital strategy are focused on how the Council operates and makes greater use of digital technology and new ways of working to deliver modern user centered services to the residents and businesses of the Borough. But there is also a vital role for the Council in facilitating improvements within the Borough and in people's lives through digital technology and better use of data.
This is increasingly important as we seek to support the borough and its residents and businesses in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as ongoing challenges from rapid growth and the climate crisis.
Anecdotal evidence from our community and voluntary sector partners suggests that much of the challenge for residents locally is not only financial barriers to access digital services (i.e. pay as you go phones, no access to free internet) but also confidence in using and accessing digital services for services that residents see as official or important. They may, for example, be confident using Facebook online but not so confident when it comes to paying bills or filling out forms to request services, preferring to do these on paper.
Through analysis of census returns by ward, we know that Shepway and Parkwood had the lowest percentage of online returns, suggesting that people in these areas are more likely to be digitally excluded or lack confidence online. We will use this sort of information to target digital inclusions interventions and help to where it is most needed and will have the biggest benefit.
The intended outcomes for this workstream are:
Data is used to proactively predict where interventions can have a positive impact
All residents and businesses have access to decent broadband
Residents are confident/have the right skills and support to access and use digital services.
To achieve this we will:
Use available data to understand the extent of digital exclusion in Maidstone following the impact of Covid-19 and to map the existing provision of access and support.
Continue our work across the borough with third sector and community groups and charities to ensure people can access training and resources easily for example through our network and the community resilience fund.
Deliver the following actions as set out in our Economic Development Strategy:
Ensure that local residents – in particular young people - can access skills and employability support including specific opportunities for re-training, business start-up, and developing digital/e-commerce competencies
Work with Kent County Council (KCC) to ensure the roll-out of high quality digital connectivity across the Borough’s rural communities to facilitate access to home working, e-commerce and learning opportunities, particularly as virtual working and learning becomes a part of the ‘new normal’ following Covid-19
Pilot a digital inclusion programme in Maidstone to engage people with community-based learning, offering digital skills as part of a package of support based on an individual’s need)
Take an evidence-based approach to supporting the KCC Digital Strategy on Digital Inclusion (i.e. through supporting its assessment of Maidstone’s needs with our own intelligence, Census data, LSOAs, complimentary projects that could support sustainability of funding opportunities). Funding (via KCC) is available for a number of projects that dovetail with our own ambitions
Involve the Councillor access to services members group to keep a watching brief on digital inclusion and be the sounding board for the digital inclusion workstream