Derisory laughter was the response of those attending the Croydon Communities Consortium meeting on Monday 19 October when it was reported that the Opportunity and Fairness Commission interim report was 60 pages long, and even with the photos stripped out was 44 pages long.
Those attending are all users of the internet, but object to printing lengthy reports being reliant on the ability to afford the costs. They supported the idea of the Commission producing a further stripped down Word PDF file to reduce it to a small size and a summary sheet of its proposals.
If those who use the web resent the way in which more and more documentation is dependent on home printing, then those without access to the web or who cannot afford print toner costs are effectively being frozen out of participation.
14% of Croydon customers are in the digital divide
Cabinet member Louisa Woodley acknowledged this was a problem for an estimated 14% of the Council’s customers in response to a question from Cllr Yvette Hopley at the Council meeting on Monday 19 October. Hopley asked ‘As we move towards a digital by design programme for all are we sure that we are not excluding some of our most vulnerable from accessing key council services?’
Woodley’s reply states:
‘We’re conscious that as the 21st century UK and the world becomes ever more digital, that we do not leave anyone behind. Public services, including central government, up and down the UK are all putting more of their services online. With the unprecedented levels of cuts continuing to face local government, we have a responsibility to move those services online that would warrant it, such as parking permits. Nonetheless, please be assured that services for the most vulnerable, such as children’s social care, remain accessible via a variety of channels. Our focus, in moving more services and information online, is to protect the services that support the most vulnerable children, adults and families in Croydon. We know that approximately 14% of customers across Croydon do not have the means or skill to use the internet so we are working on a digital inclusion policy to ensure we don’t leave anyone behind, as being online has financial and social inclusion benefits which it is important we support all residents to be able to access. In Access Croydon, for example, we currently offer computer courses via Learn Direct to increase customers skill, where they want to go online. We also have floorwalkers on hand to help customers when they do need help with the service. I am pleased to also advise that we are working with several resident and disability groups to ensure that we capture residents needs when designing services and there usability. When you consider that a family of four is likely to be £560 per year worse off if they are not online, then we also have a moral responsibility to ensure that those who may not currently have the level of online skill or access to a computer are supported to get online. Ways we are helping residents include:
- If a household does not have internet connection or access to a computer, then we provide access to computer terminals in our libraries.
- Where someone can arrange for access to the internet but may not have the skills, then we have a partnership with Learn Direct and have had a number of residents successfully gain confidence and skills to go online.
- In recent months, we have worked with a local church in Norbury, providing them with some old laptops so that they could run training sessions with older residents. These sessions were over-subscribed, showing us that there are lots of people who want to gain the skills to navigate the internet and access information and services online. Some of those originally trained have now gone on to run classes with their peers, helping them get online too.
- We have installed a system called ‘Browse Aloud’ on our new website, which can translate text into 99 different languages – thereby enabling someone whose first language isn’t English to easier access and understand the information we provide online and enabling them to ‘self-serve’
- That same ‘Browse Aloud’ system also supports users who have a visual impairment or dyslexia, enabling them to change the layout of text on our website in a way that suits them, or download text into an audio file In November we will be officially launching our partnership with Go ON UK, whose patron is Baroness Martha Lane Fox, to help more Croydon residents get online. A range of events and activities will be taking place, supported by a range of organisations such as AgeUK and Lloyds Bank, to help increase the number of Croydon residents get online.
The good news is that we now have over 110,000 residents who have a ‘My Account’ and this number continues to grow by the day. Around 60% of My Account users have subscribed to receiving the council’s weekly email bulletin (Your Croydon Weekly) and the same number subscribe to the bi-monthly online resident magazine.
Last year we had 3.75m visits to our website http://www.croydon.gov.uk with searching for information being the primary reason people visit. We also launched our online newsroom news.croydon.gov.uk which received 350,000 visits in its first year. This shows us that there is an appetite for online services and it’s our duty to help eradicate barriers to getting online.’
Keeping digitally in touch
Even though attendees at the Consortium meeting are all concerned and active citizens they expressed worry about the fact that they do not know about many of the participation activities of the Council. To keep up-to-date visit https://getinvolved.croydon.gov.uk and subscribing to receive Your Croydon weekly.