A new £5 million programme will offer an internet connection, training and support, and a laptop or tablet to vulnerable people who are not already online during the response to COVID-19. The Connecting Scotland programme will connect 9,000 more people who are considered at clinically high risk so they can access services and support and connect with friends and family during the pandemic. The Connecting Scotland project is being delivered by the Scottish Government, in partnership with local authorities, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and the digital and IT sectors led by ScotlandIS. It is also supported by Microsoft, Leidos, the Data Lab, Accenture and Gartner. Eligible digitally excluded people will be identified by local authorities and third sector organisations and offered a device with a mobile internet data package, which will be delivered to their homes. A ‘digital champion’ will provide phone and online support for an initial period of six months – after which the project will be evaluated to assess support needed longer term. Training and support for digital champions is being coordinated by SCVO, and will be delivered through local authorities and third sector bodies. Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said: “Access to the internet is a real lifeline during these difficult times, so we want to support people to get online and stay connected through this project. “The advice is clear that we need to stay at home, but for those shielding and in a high risk group, and not online, we know this is difficult and can increase isolation and loneliness at a time they already feel vulnerable and might be missing other support. SCVO Chief Executive Anna Fowlie said: This additional investment will go a long way towards reducing that digital divide and ensuring everyone can benefit from being online.” Councillor Gail Macgregor, COSLA’s Resources Spokesperson said: “Ensuring that our communities are connected is essential to our response to tackling coronavirus, and COSLA welcomes the positive role that this programme will have in getting people online in the coming weeks and months.” “Local Government has been at the forefront of efforts to tackle digital exclusion and is ideally placed to understand the significant challenges that it presents, particularly to the most vulnerable. That is why we are working closely with Scottish Government and third sector partners to deliver on this programme.”