Connecting Scotland programme aims to get 50,000 Scots online

A nationwide effort to tackle the digital divide is aiming to get 50,000 Scots online by next year as government support expanded to £43m.

The Connecting Scotland programme is supporting disadvantaged households across the country by issuing devices, providing technical support and offering unlimited data for 12 months.

The scheme was announced in April this year as a way to prevent low income families and shielding groups from becoming isolated during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initially backed by £5m of government support in ‘phase 1’, and with a target of reaching at risk 9,000 households, the programme was expanded in August as part of ‘phase 2’ with an additional £15m to prioritise disadvantaged families with children and young people leaving care.

Now, after another cash injection of £23m – announced as part of the Programme for Government (PfG), the support has reached £43m with organisations that work with digitally excluded families and young people in care encouraged to apply for funding.

The money has been used to issue Chromebooks and iPads to those vulnerable communities, backed with digital training and support.

With around a hundred applications already received for the current phase of the programme, local authorities and third sector bodies have another three weeks to seek support for the families and care leavers they work with, with further details on how the additional funding will work expected next month.

Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said: “The pandemic has emphasised the importance of digital connectivity – for education, for access to public services and online shopping, and for staying in touch with friends and family. However, it has also heightened the impact of digital exclusion.

“Over the next 15 months, the Connecting Scotland programme will make a significant contribution towards closing that digital divide by helping many more households to benefit from technology through issuing devices along with offers of support and data.

“By the end of next year it will have brought approximately 50,000 people online, underpinned by an additional £23 million Scottish Government funding. I will be able to announce details of the programme’s next phase, including the groups of people that I believe will be particularly able to benefit in the coming weeks.

“However, it is absolutely crucial that anyone who could benefit from the scheme has the chance to do so which is why I hope local authorities and our third sector partners will help identify even more people needing this kind of support.”