Savage Gets Support For Digital Poverty Working Group

Cllr Michael Savage has presented a motion to Council to set up a digital poverty working group.

Cllr Michael Savage has presented a motion to Council to set up a digital poverty working group.

Councillor Michael Savage has succeeded with his motion to see Newry Mourne and Down District Council set up a digital poverty working group to address the inequalities in online learning and broadband access, subject to the motion being agreed at the next full Council meeting.

Cllr Savage highlighted key raw data:

  • there are 87% internet users in Northern Ireland, the lowest in the UK.
  • the Dept of the Economy indicated that 68,000 homes in Northern Ireland have an inadequate broadband supply.
  • over 10,000 homes in NI don’t have a broadband supply.

He said this represents a challenge to improve the supply to schools, businesses and churches as well in our society.

Speaking after the meeting the Newry councillor said: “At the August meeting of the Council’s Strategy Policy and Resources Committee, Newry Mourne and Down District Council, on the back of the Motion I proposed on tackling Digital Poverty, supported my proposal, subject to ratification at Full Council, to set up a Digital Poverty Working Group to tackle inequalities in broadband access across our District.

Councillor Michael Savage has brought a digital poverty motion forward to Newry Mourne and Down District Council.

“With our schoolchildren dependent on blended learning throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the inequalities in digital access are now apparent. The motion attempted to address that, as well as the need for broadband access for those in extreme poverty who need access to online benefits portals.

“It also called for providing better connectivity to many local rural residents currently struggling to get adequate broadband for their families.

“The motion has resulted in Council agreeing to set up a Digital Poverty Working Group to address these inequalities across our District.

“Working with key stakeholders and Government Departments, the Digital Poverty Working Group will be co-ordinated by the Community Planning team. 

“The membership of the working group will include: ️

  • Council Officers from Community Planning, Community Development and Economic/ Rural Development. 
  • Statutory Partner Representatives from the Education Authority, Regional Colleges Community Voluntary Sector,
  • Representatives as nominated by the Strategic Stakeholder Forum ️Sports Club
  • Representatives as nominated by Sports Association Newry, Down and South Armagh.”

He added that the aims of working group will be to :

  • utilise the knowledge and experience of members to better understand the nature of digital poverty across the District.
  • identify where further initiatives are required. ️
  • understand current activity addressing digital poverty and identify “gaps” in provision as well as opportunities for better coordination and collaboration.
  • identify funding opportunities to support community-based short-term initiatives to address the identified needs. 
  • design, implement, monitor and report on initiatives assisting families in gaining access to online learning, adequate broadband or appropriate computer equipment. 

Cllr Savage said: “Reporting update reports on the activity of the Working Group will be provided to Council Committee, the Community Planning Partnership and the Community Coordination Hub. Updates will also be provided to the Strategic Stakeholder Forum through their appointed representatives.”

The Motion was initially tabled at a full Council meeting in May 2021 and was referred to the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee seeking to set up the Digital Poverty Working Group. The motion reads:

“This Council acknowledges that blended learning is likely to be with us for some time to come due to the graduated easing of restrictions relating to the Pandemic. Council recognises that Digital Poverty needs to be urgently addressed across our district and throughout the North in order to tackle growing inequalities in education with children in many families unable to access online learning due to lack of computers in the home and lack of access to adequate broadband.

Council agrees to set up a Working Group to work with local schools, community groups, youth organisations and sports clubs to devise a community-based short-term initiative to assist families to gain access to online learning and adequate broadband. 

Council calls for a Digital Poverty Task Force to be set up within the NI Executive to ensure that no child loses out in their education due to lack of access to a computer or broadband and requests that the Council Chief Executive writes to the Education Minister and the Executive Office outlining the Council’s call for a Digital Poverty Taskforce to be established.”

The motion was seconded by Cllr Hugh Gallagher.

Sinn Féin Cllr Barra O’Muiri said: “I fully agree with the sentiments of this motion and I’m looking forward to seeing this rolled out to support children and adults in need.”

Independent Cllr Jarleth Tinnelly said: “I also support the motion but would not like to see it turn into a talking shop. I fully agree with the sentiments.”

A senior council officer indicated that progress could be reviewed in one year’s time with this built into the terms of reference for the digital poverty strategy.