The national association for local authorities in Scotland has called for further investment into digital connectivity infrastructure in a new report that calls for ’empowerment’ in the post-pandemic recovery and renewal process.

COSLA – the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities – released a Blueprint for Local Government this week, which welcomed Scottish Government investment to reduce digital exclusion but highlighted ‘significant infrastructure issues’ in terms of digital connectivity.

The local councils’ body has been working closely with government on the £5m Connecting Scotland programme during the Covid-19 pandemic to offer an internet connection, training and support, and a laptop or tablet, to vulnerable people who are not already online during the response to coronavirus.

The Connecting Scotland programme aimed to connect 9,000 more people who are considered at clinically high risk themselves so they can access services and support and connect with friends and family during the pandemic.

In its new report though, it stated: “Effective digital connectivity is increasingly important in ensuring that children and young people have access to learning at all times. Despite welcome investment from the Scottish Government to reduce digital exclusion, significant infrastructure issues remain in terms of connectivity, as well as ongoing issues with a lack of access to devices; data and key digital and cyber skills.”

The report is calling for the expansion of the digital learning offer to ensure that all children and young people have access to learning “at all times” and states that connectivity will be “central to building a more resilient economy.”

The digital recommendations were contained among six key themes in the body of the report, which included strengthening local democracy, funding services and communities and wellbeing – including health and social care.

On the latter, COSLA is set to be working closely with government in the coming months on a refresh of the national digital health & care strategy with plans to create a dedicated data strategy for health and social care for the first time, according to the recent policy goals stated in the Programme for Government (PfG).

It is also going to be part of work towards the automation of local level benefits and payments and a consultation process for an updated national digital strategy. ‘Realising Scotland’s full potential in a digital world: a digital strategy for Scotland’ was published in 2017.

Speaking as he launched the Blueprint, Councillor Graham Houston COSLA’s Vice-President said:  “The Blueprint we are launching today provides a narrative around the kind of country we want, and about the changes that could make a real difference to communities across the country.

“Covid-19 has changed the way we live. But pre-Covid, through Covid and after Covid Local Government is the anchor for communities in need.  For children, young people and families; for local businesses; and for services that benefit our physical and emotional well-being and the environment. We work with communities and local organisations every day to bring about change and to make the voices of people heard and matter.”

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 were to 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.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay