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5/14/2013
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Lottery Fund To Help Bridge U.K. Digital Divide

Big Lottery Fund plans to make some £15 million ($23 million) available to increase tech literacy of U.K. citizens.

The Big Lottery, a U.K.-based organization that distributes lottery money to good causes, plans to allocate £15 million ($23 million) to help bridge some of the U.K.'s digital divide.

According to the organization, some 7.4 million Brits have never touched a computer, and an estimated 16 million don't have the basic skills to fully benefit from the Internet.

"The U.K. is often considered a nation of early adopters, with the growing use of smart phones, mobile Internet and social media," reads a statement from the group's website. "However, there is growing evidence illustrating the size and impact of a 'digital divide' between those who use computers and the Internet and those that do not." According to the organization, 35% of so-called 'NEETS' (young people not in education, employment or training) rarely look for jobs online, while as many as 17% say they don't apply for jobs that need basic computer skills.

"There are so many ways making full use of digital technology can make real differences to communities and people in need," said Big Lottery Fund chief executive Peter Wanless.

[ Are apprenticeships the answer to bridging the IT talent gap? Read U.K. Eyes Apprenticeships To Grow IT Talent. ]

For the initiative, dubbed "Digital Skills," Wanless and his team are looking for U.K.-wide projects that can boost the percentage of the British population able to use computers and the Internet safely and confidently, offer ideas on how to support those most in need and significantly advance the digital capability of volunteer and community groups to improve their services. "The outcomes we are setting for this program are very challenging," Wanless acknowledged. "Applicants will need to achieve reach across UK and will be tackling a very challenging social issue."

Digital Skills is not the first project to look for innovative ways to bridge the U.K. digital divide. Most of the momentum so far has come from "digital champion" Martha Lane Fox's Go ON U.K. campaign. According to Go ON U.K., 4.5 million British workers lack basic online skills, and only 14% of British SMBs sell products and services online. The group also claims that as much as 6 to 10% of the population -- or a possible 3.5 million Brits -- actively resist IT at all.

The application process for the Big Lottery Fund's Digital Skills program will begin this fall and will remain open for about a month.

Urban transformation requires IT innovation. Here's how five U.S. cities are forging ahead. Also in the new, all-digital Future Cities issue of InformationWeek Government: Video surveillance provided valuable clues to the Boston Marathon bombings, serving as a lesson to other cities. (Free registration required.)

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