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Westminster View: Solving Digital Exclusion

Chi Onwurah MP | July 15, 2015
As I set out in my last blog, one of the two key tests by which I believe we should judge the success or otherwise of this Conservative Government is digital inclusion. Digital Government without digital inclusion is a return to the traditional Tory model of democracy amongst a narrow elite. All citizens should have access to digital government services; that is what government means in a democracy.

As I set out in my last blog, one of the two key tests by which I believe we should judge the success or otherwise of this Conservative Government is digital inclusion. Digital Government without digital inclusion is a return to the traditional Tory model of democracy amongst a narrow elite. All citizens should have access to digital government services; that is what government means in a democracy.

The Coalition government forgot digital inclusion for most of its tenure. When it did finally get round to writing a digital inclusion strategy in April 2014 its target for inclusion was a paltry 90 percent. Inclusion for the last Government meant one in ten of us would be excluded.

Now we have a new Government and a new minister I wondered whether they would stand by that target, or, perhaps I even hoped, improve upon it.

So I asked Matthew Hancock what I thought was a relatively simple question:

To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office, what target his Department has for the proportion of the UK population which should be able to access services online; and when he plans to publish an update to the Government's Digital Inclusion Strategy.

His answer was anything but simple:

The Digital Inclusion Strategy aims to reduce the proportion of UK adults who lack basic digital skills by 25 percent by 2016, and by a further 25 percent every two years thereafter.

So the answer was not a number, but an infinite mathematical series. I had not realised that the Right Honourable Matthew Hancock (PPE Oxford) was such a mathematics geek. I wondered whether it would catch on across Government and all PQ responses would be in the form of simultaneous equations.

I was reluctant this early in our acquaintance to accuse the Paymaster General of deliberately trying to obscure the truth. Perish the thought that a minister might do that.

As my engineering degree was mainly mathematics I was pretty sure I could solve the 'answer' as long as I had starting point. So I asked what is called a 'pursuant' follow up question:

To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office, pursuant to the Answer of 8 June 2015 to Question 1492, what the proportionate baseline is for the goal of reducing the proportion of UK adults who lack basic digital skills by 25 percent by 2016; and until what year he plans to reduce that proportion by a further 25 percent.

He chose to ignore the second part of the question but at least answered the first:

The proportionate baseline was the 20 percent of the adult population who lacked basic digital skills in March/May 2014, as measured by BBC research.

 

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