Reboot for West Midlands digital plan
19th February 2024
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The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has refreshed its Digital Roadmap, setting out how it will work with partners to digitally upskill residents, connect even more people and businesses to broadband, and drive better use of data and technology to improve public services and reduce the region’s carbon footprint.

The roadmap will build on the West Midlands’ position as the UK’s best connected combined authority area for 5G coverage and harness the positivity among entrepreneurs who feel the region is a good place to start and grow a technology business.

The roadmap does, however, acknowledge some of the barriers to the region’s digital ambitions. This includes 46% of the population being non or limited users of the internet, indicating high levels of digital poverty and exclusion and fewer people in the region using digital public services compared to the national average.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and WMCA chair, said: “Since the first Digital Roadmap was published in 2021, we’ve appointed our first Tech Commissioner and secured millions of pounds through the Deeper Devolution Deal - agreed with Government in March 2023 - to support our efforts to make sure our region is healthier and more digitally inclusive.

“Whether it’s developing a smart ticketing scheme to make it easier to use our public transport network, investing in digital bootcamps to improve the skills of thousands of local people or our pioneering Smart City Region programme that is harnessing technology to improve health outcomes, we’re proving here on the ground that digital done right can change lives for the better.

“Together we can do even more - leveraging the tremendous knowledge and experience of our region’s innovators to help us prosper. That’s why I’m determined that we realise our potential to be a UK digital powerhouse. This refreshed Digital Roadmap sets out how we will fulfil that potential and deliver results for local residents and businesses in the months and years ahead.”

The West Midlands has a burgeoning digital economy with recent statistics showing the region’s tech sector to be worth £15.3 billion, with 2,400 businesses employing 144,000 people.

The region was also recently named a 5G Innovation Region, recognising the potential for digital innovation to create skilled jobs, boost productivity, transform wellness and help reduce social inequalities by boosting investing in advanced manufacturing and smart communities.

To bolster further growth and the digital capabilities of local people, the WMCA is already using £4 million of funding secured through the region’s Deeper Devolution Deal with government last year to provide more than 20,000 residents with digital devices to help them get online and further embrace technology.

A further £15 million is being invested in bespoke training schemes to help meet the skills need generated by the region’s booming tech sector.

Cllr Patrick Harley, WMCA portfolio lead for culture and digital and leader of Dudley Council, said: “There has been a period of significant change since our first Digital Roadmap was published in 2021, with more remote working and additional resources secured for our region to boost digital inclusivity.

“That’s why it’s important that we update our Digital Roadmap and use it as a call to action for partners to work with us to deliver, enable and influence activities over the next three years as technology drives forward our efforts to create a digitally inclusive economy which prioritises carbon reduction and improved public services for our communities.”

Martin Ward, the West Midlands Tech Commissioner, said: "It's essential that we fully embrace new digital technologies as a key driver of future economic growth in our region. Our tech sector has transformed over a generation and there are now job opportunities here in start-ups, scale-ups and major enterprises that were previously only available in London. We must build on that momentum and be bold in our actions to realise the potential we have to become a global tech superpower in our own right."

Robert Franks, managing director of WM5G, which is part of the WMCA, said: “Universal access to fast and reliable connectivity is the foundation for West Midlands’ digital economy. As such we’re delighted that the West Midlands has extended its mobile and broadband leadership with over 65% geographic coverage for 5G and over 94% of premises passed for gigabit broadband, compared to the UK average of 79%. This is thanks in part to the unique partnership between WM5G, the operators, the local authorities and Government.

“Nevertheless there remain key locations and communities that lack access to fast, reliable and affordable connectivity and we’re committed to address these in the next few years as well as accelerating the economic and social benefits from businesses and public services adopting 5G, sensor and data/AI technologies.”

Alongside rolling out 5G networks across the region, WM5G and the WMCA are working closely with partners across the region to boost awareness of social broadband tariffs and tackle the cost barriers to adoption. Find out more at www.wmca.org.uk/what-we-do/economy-and-innovation/west-midlands-5g-why-we-have-the-best-coverage-in-the-uk/get-connected-for-less/.

Read the Digital Roadmap at www.wmca.org.uk/documents/culture-digital/west-midlands-digital-roadmap-2024-27/.

 

 

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Ian Henery

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