Connecting Scotland programme: full business case

Final full business case for the next phase of the Connecting Scotland programme.

3. Strategic Case

3.1 Introduction

This strategic case will show the necessity of a programme such as Connecting Scotland in underpinning many of the key public sector transformation deliverables. Without having all of the population able to access online public services (like Denmark where 96% of the population access public digital services), there will always be a cohort of Scotland’s people who are “left behind”. This section will show the evidence for investing in Connecting Scotland, against the backdrop of the strategies mentioned above and the National Performance Framework. This section also outlines the benefits to the individual, society and the economy of having a digitally active population.

The use of digital tools has become a standard and essential part of our lives and shapes our human activities daily. Digital access and technological developments provide a sense of purpose and help us make our lives easy. There are now online options for most of our daily activities, such as shopping, booking travel, ordering food, banking, accessing entertainment media (music, movies, videos), paying bills and meeting friends and family. Many of these bring benefits such as cost and time savings, access to life opportunities and provide ways to enhance our in-person activities, but not everyone has equal access.

According to the United Nations, half of the world’s population (3.7 billion) currently do not have access to the internet.

At the international level, the United Nations has set targets to ensure equitable access to digital connectivity. By 2030, everyone should have access to safe and affordable access to the internet, including digitally enabled services in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

On 9 March 2021, the European Commission presented a comprehensive framework for digital transformation in Europe.[13] The commission presented a roadmap to the EU’s digital decade, based around four key areas:

  • government
  • infrastructure
  • skills
  • business

These four areas of life for EU digital citizenship are further embedded in key rights and principles of each citizen of Europe. These ideals not only provide and promote life opportunities for each citizen but also protect against any potential harms and risk while promoting social cohesion, participation and sustainability. Although Scotland is no longer a member of the EU, it is proposed that we should still aim to meet this standard.

The scope and scale of the digital world presents opportunities but there are also risks, discussed later in this paper. As governments around the world decide how to respond to this challenge, the repercussions for citizens affect the opportunities they will have throughout their lives.

3.2 Scottish Government approaches to the digital agenda

Connecting Scotland is aligned with the Scottish Government Digital Strategy for Scotland. It has ambitions to re-invigorate the Digital Participation Charter and introduce a Digital Minimum Living Standard to make Scotland become one of the most digitally inclusive countries in the world.

During the pandemic, the digital inequality gap widened in society due to the prolific use of digital services. As a response to this emergency, in 2020-2021 The Scottish Government made digital equality a key part of the Programme for Government (PfG), with Connecting Scotland at the heart of achieving this ambition15.

This year’s Programme for Government (PfG) did not mention Connecting Scotland directly but it sets out wider governmental prioritisation for the year 2022-2023. It is aimed to tackle issues around the cost-of-living crisis; child poverty as part of Best Start, Bright Futures; climate -related emergencies; and supporting communities. One of the key aspects of the PfG is to ensure that Scotland is a global leader in terms of human rights and equality.

The National Performance Framework has an overarching ambition to provide equality and opportunity for everyone, including digital accessibility.

As a nation, we aim to:

  • create a more successful country
  • give opportunities to all people living in Scotland
  • increase the wellbeing of people living in Scotland
  • create sustainable and inclusive growth
  • reduce inequalities and give equal importance to economic, environmental and social progress

Connecting Scotland will contribute to the following national outcomes:

  • Education – We are well educated, skilled and able to contribute to society
  • Poverty – We tackle poverty by sharing opportunities, wealth and power more equally.
  • Economy – We have a globally competitive, entrepreneurial, inclusive and sustainable economy.
  • Fair Work & Business – We have thriving and innovative businesses, with quality jobs and fair work for everyone.

The National Performance Framework was included in the Bute House Agreement in August 2021[14] which emphasised building a green economic recovery from COVID-19 and provides a robust response to the climate related emergencies and creating a fairer country. This FBC has considered a sustainable approach to Connecting Scotland in line with those ambitions.

Furthermore, the Scottish Government published the Digital Strategy for Scotland in March 2021, titled ‘A Changing Nation: How Scotland will Thrive in a Changing World’,[15] putting forward a proactive framework to unlock digital potential across four spheres of our lives: people, places, economy and government. This framework provides an opportunity to reimagine our future and transform our lives in line with the digital and technological advancements of our day.

There is an ever-increasing need for collaboration across public-private sectors, third sector organisations and community networks, as demonstrated during COVID-19, to ensure that policy and practices are aligned to the needs of users to ensure social and economic value for everyone in Scotland. The success of this national approach is based on the digital accessibility of devices, connectivity and support to ensure the full participation of citizens in our digital nation.

Defining digital poverty and digital exclusion

The Digital Strategy for Scotland outlines the Scottish Government’s ambition to tackle digital exclusion. Digital poverty is often described as having lack of access to IT hardware and Infrastructure, such as laptops, mobiles, devices and internet connectivity.

Digital exclusion can also result from having limited or non-existent levels of digital literacy which poses barriers to multiple digital opportunities in the digital world. This has a considerable impact on various groups who are in receipt of welfare funds and further impacts their life chances. In the UK, digital poverty and exclusion are growing problems exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Scotland there is a signification portion of households and individuals that do not have the essential skills or infrastructure required to engage in a digital society. Inability to engage means that people are unable to access public services online, are not offered the same opportunities to achieve the same level of education and contribute to the economy to the same extent as those with access and may be deprived of the opportunities to contribute to democracy.

The 2017 Get Digital heatmap below, which highlights the likelihood of digital exclusion by region in the U.K., shows that of the 32 local authorities in Scotland, 19 have a high likelihood of digital exclusion. There are only 3 local authorities with low likelihood of digital exclusion in Scotland: Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Figure 1: Digital Exclusion Heatmap
A map is shown of Scotland named the 'Get Digital Heatmap' produced in 2017 by the Tech Partnership working with Lloyds banking group, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the Local Government Association. It shows the likelihood of digital exclusion in Scotland by shading, with the lightest shade being unlikely to experience digital exclusion and the darkest shade being the most likely to experience digital exclusion. Of the thirty-two local authorities in Scotland, nineteen have a high likelihood of digital exclusion. There are only three local authorities with low likelihood of digital exclusion in Scotland: Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

3.2.1 Factors affecting digital exclusion

Level of digital exclusion is determined by several factors including:

  • Infrastructure: Percentage of households that have access to broadband speeds at 10 megabits per second or 4G mobile data
  • Offline: Percentage of adults who have not been online within the past 3 months
  • Essential Digital Skills: Percentage of adults who possess all five essential digital skills (managing information, communicating, transacting, problem solving, creating)
  • Essential Digital Skills Used: Percentage of adults who have used all five essential digital skills in the past 3 months
  • Age: Percentage of adults over 65
  • Education: Percentage of adults who have no qualifications and/or no Level 1 qualifications
  • Income: The average income of taxpayers in the region
  • Health: The percentage of adults with long-term illness or disability

A combination of the above factors is used to determine the likelihood of digital exclusion across each of the local authorities, but the map does not identify actual areas of digital exclusion. Although the map indicates Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow have a lower likelihood of exclusion this should not be used as a reliable indication of digital exclusion for these areas.

Larger cities in Scotland have improved infrastructure which could lead to an overall lower rating on likelihood of digital exclusion. Target groups should be prioritised based on a combination of factors including the benefit to the economy, society and the individual.

While the factors above help to determine likelihood of digital exclusion across each of the local authorities, other factors have been considered to ascertain which target groups are likely to be impacted by exclusion:

  • Age: Adults over 65 have frequently been cited as the most likely group to remain offline. Age U.K. has identified that while there has been an increase in internet use amongst the older population, a sizeable portion of over 75-year-old adults remain offline.[16] Despite the increase in uptake, the group that remain offline may do so as they do not understand the benefits of being online or have the confidence to do so safely. These link back to the key barriers of getting online being motivation and confidence. The Scottish Household Survey[17] identified that 23% of adults aged 60-74 and 62% of adults aged 75+ were not internet users.
  • Disability: Illness and disability contribute to an individual lacking the five essential digital skills required to be fully included in a digital society. Those that have a long-term physical or mental health condition reported lower use of internet with 27% compared with 8% of those who do not have any such condition.[18]
  • Gender: Gender as a stand-alone factor has not been shown to be a cause of exclusion for people. Only when combined with other factors such as age do the gaps in online activity become apparent. The ONS 2019 report on internet users in the U.K. identified that the proportion of men that had used the internet within the last three months was only slightly higher than women at 92% and 90% respectively.[19] The significant gap can be noted in adults aged 75 or older, with 53% of men and only 41% of women having used the internet within the last three months.
  • Ethnicity: ONS has identified a downward trend in percentage of non-users from different ethnic groups between 2011 and 2018[20]. While the gap is closing further work would be required to understand if different ethnic groups face challenges in remaining digitally included.
  • English as a Second Language (ESL): Lack of confidence and motivation are key contributing factors to those that have English as a second language in getting online, with English language skills required for participation in a digital society in Scotland. Good Things Foundation, supported by the Carnegie U.K. Trust, produced a report on supporting digital inclusion of adults with low English language skills[21] and the barriers that are faced. Use of the internet is required to navigate key services such as translation and is required for people that must engage with online public services. Improving both digital skills and English language skills in partnership will improve individuals' confidence to engage in a digital society and improve efficiencies by reducing time pressures on local authorities in face-to-face support. Good Things Digital Motivation report noted that “those who are not “very” confident about their literacy are 3.5 times more likely to be nonusers”.[22]
  • Qualification Level: The Lloyd’s Digital Index indicates that those with a “university education are twice as likely to have the Foundation Skill than those that lack any formal qualifications”[23] with 42% of adults with no qualifications lacking the essential digital skills. Those that have left education prior to the age of 16 are less likely to have the skills required to engage in a digital society nor have the motivation or confidence to participate.
  • Income: There is a direct correlation between household income and likelihood of accessing the internet which links back to affordability remaining one of the key barriers to individuals getting online. To close the digital divide for those on low income, devices and connectivity must be more affordable, with either subsidized monthly charges or free usage of data. Survey findings from the Scottish Household Survey[24] indicate that households with a total net income of over £40,000 saw only 2% of households that did not use the internet, compared with 19% of households with a total net income of £0-£6,000 and 31% of households with a total net income of £6,001-£10,000. Although the percentage of adults from low-income households that are online has increased significantly since 2007, 40% to 81% now online from the lowest income group, there remains a gap between those in the highest income group at 98%.
  • Housing Tenure: Individuals in private rented homes are more likely to conduct basic online activities such as sending and receiving emails, searching for information and buying goods or services than those are in social housing. Private rented tenants that made personal use of the internet saw 91% use for emails, 84% for searching information and 79% for buying goods. Compare this to social housing adults at 80%, 77% and 68% respectively.[25] Furthermore, the research notes that the gap is not significant, one of the main barriers to those in social housing for engaging online is confidence in their ability to use the internet for any of the activities.
  • Household Composition: Good Things Digital Motivation report noted that “each child in the house makes you 1.2 times less likely to be a non-user”[26] which indicates that children in the household enable internet usage. Households without children would be at a disadvantage without the support of digitally natives in the home to upskill.
  • Location: The indication is that poverty is a higher factor in considering whether a household can access reliable broadband than location. Those in more rural areas are more likely to have limited access to the infrastructure required to remain online. Fixed line broadband is a more viable option for individuals in these locations due to the potential limitations of being unable to access fast mobile data. The Scottish Household Survey identified that those in rural access do not have a significant variance to home broadband access to those in urban areas, with 12%[27] of remote rural houses having no home internet access. The challenge in rural areas would be for those households that have no home fixed line broadband access and therefore must access mobile data with the appropriate 4G or fast mobile speeds available. The percentage of households without broadband access between rural and urban areas is comparable, between 10% at the lowest in accessible rural areas and 13% in large urban areas.

3.2.2 Identifying target groups for Connecting Scotland

Using the percentages available by local authority in the Get Digital Heatmap, the following potential groups who would benefit from the continued Connecting Scotland programme have been identified.

The target number has been calculated using the latest Council Areas Profile report, published 30 April 2020[28] . As the number of people in poverty includes children, the target number for income has been calculated based on the proportion of people in persistent poverty[29] applied against the Council Areas Profile report.

  • Individuals that are offline: The number of adults across Scotland that have not been online within the last 3 months — 480,369
  • Individuals without all 5 essential digital skills: The number of adults across Scotland that do not have all 5 essential digital skills — 1,063,984
  • Individuals that have not used all 5 essential digital skills: The number of adults across Scotland that have not used all 5 essential digital skills within the past 3 months — 2,612,298
  • Over 65: The number of adults across Scotland aged 65+ — 1,026,114
  • Low level of education: The number of adults that have no qualifications and/or no Level 1 qualifications — 2,248,937
  • Income: The number of people living in persistent poverty — 706,953
  • Target group with illness or disability: The number of adults across Scotland that have long-term illness or disability — 1,182,475

There is an assumption that there will be overlap across the groups, for example, those individuals aged over 65 and lacking essential digital skills, or those individuals' lacking education and on low income.

To determine the optimum target groups of individuals to achieve the highest return on investment a scale of “impact” versus “difficulty to address” has been defined.

Impact focuses on the impact to the individual, the economy and return on investment from funding. Difficulty to address identifies the level of intervention required and whether this would be received favourably.

Figure 2: Impact versus difficulty to address
A graph shows the optimum target groups for the Connecting Scotland programme to target, marked out against impact of the benefits and difficulty to reach on each axis, from low to high. Gender and ethnicity, are at the lowest end of the graph, Housing tenure (social housing), Disability, Age, ESL, occupy the centre of the graph as difficulty and impact increase toward high from low. Low level of qualification, Low income, and Household Makeup (two or more children), have the highest scored difficulty to reach and impact of the programme.

Form this evidence, gender and ethnicity do not appear to be a significant factor in a person’s ability to engage in a digital society, therefore they have been excluded as specific groups to address at this time. Individuals from both groups may fall into one of the other categories and be accounted for in the target groups elsewhere. Women and ethnic minorities that are on low income have been included in the target group specifically for low income to distinguish from individuals in the gender and ethnicity groups that are not currently targeted.

Individuals with low levels of education and individuals with English as a Second Language can benefit from further education to upskill and improve confidence. Improving individuals’ qualification levels will open access to a wider variety of employment opportunities and allow them to unlock their potential. These individuals have been grouped as people who are unemployed or who need to enhance their skill sets.

Those in social housing with lower income have been identified as having decreased access to the internet, however with each additional child in the house decreases the likelihood of users being offline. Providing families with access to digital technology and connectivity allows children equal opportunities in education and parents to upskill themselves and apply to different job positions.

Those with long-term illness or disabilities or individuals over the age of 65 are identified as lacking the essential digital skills and motivation to engage online. This group of individuals may benefit most from ease of access to public services including online health services. Those in social housing would benefit from online access to public services and understanding of what benefits are available.

The return on investment would be increased efficiency for the government via a reduction in staff support time for individuals where that time could be more gainfully employed in addressing other needs. The target groups identify as people who are substantially above average users of public services.

As such, the following specific target groups have been identified:

  • Six Priority Family Groups to tackle child poverty: Those families on low income and young children with a specific need to address child poverty targets.
  • People who are unemployed or who need to enhance their skills sets: People that are currently seeking employment, looking to upskill themselves to compete in a digital world or those that are seeking to complete education to a specific level.
  • People who are substantially above average users of public services: People that currently do or would benefit from actively engaging in online public services, e.g., people with underlying health conditions (mental and physical), older individuals or those on low/fixed incomes.

3.2.3 Digital Exclusion and Child Poverty

Age can be a barrier to digital exclusion, where children and young people are not immune to digital poverty and exclusion. Scottish Government poverty statistics from 2017-20 note that 1 in 4 children are living in poverty in Scotland.[30] Similarly, the effects of digital poverty upon children can carry negative impact on the future outcomes of children. Digital exclusion impacts parents which is why the Scottish Government’s Best Start, Bright Futures has a particular focus on helping parents out of poverty through their new Parental Transitional Fund which has a focus on supporting carers and parents into the labour market and lifting the family out of digital poverty.

Research from ‘Inspiring Scotland’ reported[31] that pre-existing inequalities mean that children in Scotland are digitally excluded at a time when connectivity is more important and vital for their development, both socially and educationally than ever, and lack of suitable connectivity access is creating significant negative impact upon some of the most marginalised and isolated communities in Scotland.

There is an identified correlation between accessibility to digital services and children’s attainment and future life prospects. There is a need to ensure that every child and adult in Scotland has equitable access to life opportunities – including the right to online access.

In 2021, the Scottish Government put forward an ambitious plan to tackle digital inequality and to ensure that every child has equal life opportunities in life. The Device for Every Child commitment[32] aims to tackle digital inequality for those who are at school by delivering 700,000 devices to school children. As set out above Connecting Scotland aims to provide digital connectivity through the Best Start Bright Futures programme.

Strategic Approach

Connecting Scotland aims to make digital inclusion possible for every citizen in Scotland by:

1. Bringing more people online through access to devices, connectivity, skills and identifying motivation.

2. Prioritising those with urgent needs and aligning the programme with government priorities such as tackling child poverty, education, employment and health and social care.

3. Ensuring getting online is affordable by increasing awareness of low-cost connectivity.

4. Removing barriers for organisations and charities who deliver digital inclusion services and bringing them under one alliance where resources, expertise and knowledge can be collectively shared.

5. Ensuring the programme is affordable and sustainable.

The strategic approach as set out above will be delivered through options as presented in the following chapter of Socio-economic section 4.3.2.

Strategic Policy Focus for Connecting Scotland

Given the current financial climate, Connecting Scotland will target limited resources strategically and think differently about how the programme is able to help the most people with the least amount of funding.

As set out in the sections above, digital exclusion is a complex problem and not just confined to one set of causes or one demographic, which means that active decisions must make maximum impact of the programme which is based on partnerships with other policy areas in SG.

Based on our understanding of digital exclusion and the cost-of-living crisis, we suggest the following order of prioritisation for a future programme. These areas are given equal weighting.

Policy Focus A: Those who are most at need in society: including families in poverty, victims of crimes and people who are homeless or suffering financial instability due to the cost-of-living crisis.

Rationale: We will prioritise helping those most in need given the constrained financial support available to the programme. Early and effective intervention will help reduce use of services overall.

Policy Focus B: Support for the child poverty delivery plan: This will align the Connecting Scotland programme to the Scottish Government’s ambition to reduce child poverty.

Rationale: Child poverty reduction aligns with governmental priorities which increases life-chances for children leading to longer term generational benefits and the breaking of poverty cycles.

Policy Focus C: Providing support that aligns with other key policy areas: Our focus will remain on building partnerships with existing policy areas such as Health, Social Care, Education and Employment to embed digital inclusion across the Scottish Government.

Rationale: Digitisation and the need for digital skills and access is crucial in each of these areas as they all are looking to leverage digital to be able to create efficiencies and flexibility of access for users. Digital inclusion work will secure equitable access to these core services and sectors.

There is much intersectionality between groups who are digitally excluded and groups affected by the different policy initiatives outlined above. We do not take these to be mutually exclusive options but laying them out like this does allow us to set and prioritise what the new programme will aim to achieve.

3.3 The benefits of a digital inclusive society

If realised, the benefits of the Connecting Scotland programme will increase our resilience as a country, ensuring that the opportunities of Digital Citizenship are spread equally across society. It will support the economic and social wellbeing of our clients, drive up efficiencies in the delivery of digital public services and speed up public service reform.

It may also enhance society’s ability to cope with any future pandemics or indeed any future similar large-scale challenge to society.

Full participation in a digital society enables benefits at many levels, for example:

  • Economy: More digitally skilled individuals drive economic growth across all sectors.
  • Access to Public Services: More people online means that all digital programmes across the Scottish public sector will be “supercharged”, increasing the number of people they can reach and hence their effectiveness and value for money. Increased digital public service usage means better Management Information (MI) which data can lead to better and faster decisions for individual, policy development, services and for Ministers.
  • Digitally engaged Individuals: People can explore the digital world to enjoy recreational activities and communicate with others. They can also learn new skills and access training that will enable them to combat inequality, especially supporting life chances and allowing people to improve their wellbeing, education and employment. Digital inclusion promotes a reduction in social isolation as it makes it easier for people to connect with others.
  • Digital Citizenship, Democracy and social cohesion: The ability to stay in touch with local and global matters and participate in debate and decision making through online media means that policymakers benefit from the opinions of those who were previously underrepresented due to digital exclusion.

3.3.1 Three Pronged Benefits of Digital Inclusion: the individual, the economy and society

Enabling Digital Citizenship through reducing digital exclusion offers a multitude of benefits to the economy, society and the individual. However, to understand the benefits of reducing the digital divide we must first understand the cost implications of a do-nothing approach.

With Scotland’s ambition to embrace a Digital Society, there has been a shift toward digital first and a need to transform public services to cater for varying levels of capabilities. This can be as easy as simplifying an online form or enhancing the information readily available online or extend to true digitalisation of the full-service journey. It is worth noting that manual services are expensive to deliver. Services delivered face-to-face in local offices or on the telephone have a much higher associated cost to the government than online services.

The U.K. Digital Efficiency Report estimates face-to-face visits at a cost of £8.62, phone calls at £2.83 per call and £0.15 per online transaction. CEBR summarises savings realised by digital inclusion as 20 times cheaper than by phone, 30 times cheaper than by post and as much as 50 times cheaper than by face-to-face meetings.

There has been a steadily increasing shift towards digital public service transformation. More recently the COVID-19 pandemic has seen increasing effort to lift the pace of transformation, for example the rapid scaling of NHS Near-Me online video consultation system.

Digital exclusion, linked to wider inequalities in society, is more likely to be faced by those on low incomes. In March 2020, only 51% of households earning 10,000 had home internet access, compared with 99% of households with income over £40,000. Even when poorer households had access to equipment and internet, they were then less likely to have the skills to use it. An OFCOM report from July 202146 shows that 6% of mobile customers struggle to afford internet connectivity, with 100,000 households unlikely to secure an internet service in the next 12 months due to cost.

There are many drivers for transformation: to meet the demands of digitally active citizens, to speed the delivery of services, and to improve efficiencies. In a do-nothing scenario, there is a missed opportunity to re-invest money saved from efficiency gains into initiatives contributing to Scotland’s digital society. Funding which has been invested in initiatives to support and supercharge the Digital Strategy for Scotland cannot be maximised if a portion of society remain offline.

The returns on investment in digital inclusion are sizeable. The 2022 CEBR digital inclusion report on behalf of the Good Things foundation estimates the following returns on investment in digital skills.

  • £9.48 return for every £1 invested
  • £1.4 billion in efficiency savings for government
  • £3.5 billion savings for individuals for online shopping
  • £3.9 billion saved by individuals through use of online banking and online government services

An earlier BT report came to similar conclusions, stating that:

“Every £1 invested in supporting digital skills, £3 of social value is generated for various stakeholders including volunteers involved in the course, the state and the beneficiaries of the training. The types of value realised included improvements in wellbeing and economic savings.”

As the cost-of-living crisis has followed on from the significant impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pressure on those most vulnerable in society has further increased rather than diminished. It has also created new economic pressures, not just on those who are the most disadvantaged, but across a range of economic segments including people who my formerly may have felt they are ‘getting by’ or ‘well off’. This is in turn is having a knock-on effect of making the internet and devices less affordable for people and creating a pressure towards greater digital exclusion despite the progress made in recent years.

The 2022 Lloyds Consumer index report reveals that 4% of people aged over 18 feel that they will have to give up personal internet to be able to pay their other bills. This translates to 170,000 adults in Scotland becoming newly digitally excluded because of the cost-of-living crisis.

Digital Inclusion should be recognised as a fundamental tool that everyone should have equitable access to. It enables people in need, be that at point of crisis, in long-term challenges and beyond, to identify and access support. It enables support that is more effective in specific situations and, vitally, it builds the confidence of people and enables them to feel a part of wider society.

Tackling digital exclusion and reducing the number of people across Scotland that lack the essential digital skills required to engage in a digital society can be grouped into three categories as below:

  • Benefits to society.
  • Benefits to economy.
  • Benefits to the individual.

There is a combination of both tangible benefits, for example savings as a direct result of closing the digital divide, and intangible benefits such as people’s feeling of engagement with society.

The programme recognises that there are also potential harms associated with online activities. These include the risk of bullying, harassment and exploitation, both for adults and children. Financial loss is possible due to hacking, identity theft, in game purchases or phishing frauds. There are also risks to wellbeing from unrealistic body image and lifestyle expectations arising from the way algorithms filter social media feeds and users present a sanitised view of their lives. For some, ‘screen time’ can compete with face-to-face interactions and time spent doing physical activities, leading to harm to mental and physical wellbeing.

Helping people to understand the risks and stay safe online will be part of digital skills training promoted and provided through Connecting Scotland initiatives. Help for people to able to stay online must be tailored to specific needs, for example, a young mum may need to understand how to critically assess health and parenting advice on the internet to avoid becoming overwhelmed and anxious from absorbing opinion and false advice. A parent may need to learn how to keep their children safe online and what software and/or settings can help with that. Where the programme plays a role in encouraging or motivating people to get online it needs to respect people’s autonomy and their choice to say no to using the internet. Alongside encouragement and motivation, the programme must be upfront about what the risks of being online can be so an informed choice about this can be made. Older people, who may need the most encouragement, may also be the most vulnerable to frauds and phishing.

3.3.2 Benefits of digital inclusion

A summary of the key benefits of digital inclusion is presented in the following pages. Promotion of inclusion

Benefits: Society / Individuals

Digital inclusion reduces social isolation[33]. Social isolation can be a significant problem for elderly people and vulnerable young people (e.g., single mums, care leavers). The cost-of-living crisis is adding to social isolation as people cut back on socialising with friends and trips to see family to save money. Loneliness and social isolation impact negatively on mental and physical health outcomes[34].

Reducing social isolation and loneliness can:

  • improve mental and physical health
  • foster less dependence on health and support services.
  • support economic activity in the leisure sector

Digital inclusion can help foster democratic inclusion, particularly for marginalised groups and so help to improve the quality of Scotland’s democracy[35]. Increased democratic participation has also been shown to have a positive effect on wellbeing[36].

In Connecting Scotland’s own research with users, 84% of survey respondents reported that during Covid 19, their ability to stay in touch with others was better since receiving their device. Improved wellbeing

Benefits: Society / Individuals

Digital inclusion helps people manage their wellbeing more effectively. This can result in improvements to wellbeing and productivity measures for society. Improved mental and physical health assists people to be economically active. Conversely, poor wellbeing due to stress and poverty hinders people from taking action to improve their situation.

Managing health online can be conducted through a variety of sources including access to applications for workout or meditation, access to NHS public services information, searching medical information via internet search, accessing online games to de-stress and interact with others.

The use of digital mental health resources, such as apps, online counselling and online mental health information are all an important means of amplifying the effectiveness of limited mental health resources.

In Connecting Scotland’s own research, 74% of survey respondents stated that their mental health and wellbeing had improved during Covid 19 since receiving their device.

A survey of Connecting Scotland’s employability cohort listed poor mental health as the third most significant barrier to their getting a job. Connecting Scotland users reported being able to use mental health services remotely such as counselling by utilizing video calls. Increased employment / access to employment

Benefits: Economy / Individuals

Digital inclusion is essential for people to find and apply for jobs.

  • it enables access to modern job markets which now are almost entirely online
  • it equips people with the digital skills needed for many better paid jobs
  • it allows people to apply for jobs that entail remote working thus increasing the pool of jobs available for them to apply for
  • it enables improved access to health, mental health and other services to alleviate some of the barriers that people in poverty face when getting a job

Improving people’s ability to search and apply for jobs and upskill themselves to improve employability will support the target to move people out of persistent poverty.

Benefits to the economy arise from reductions in benefits payments and increases in taxation, and from productivity gains made by having a digitally skilled workforce and promoting innovation in Scotland’s digital economy[37] [38]. There are also significant opportunities for digital inclusion to boost entrepreneurship and self-employment.

Connecting Scotland research shows that finding employment in a modern jobs market almost entirely relies on being connected, as job vacancies and application processes are nearly universally only accessed by digital means. Greater uptake and more efficient use of services

Benefits: Economy / Individual

Accessing services digitally is 20 to 30 times cheaper than accessing them by paper or phone and as much as 50 times cheaper than by face to face meetings.

The cost-of-living crisis is likely to drive organisations to using digital options to make efficiencies over delivering services manually or face-to-face, creating further barriers for those who are digitally excluded to access or take full advantage of these services Digital inclusion opens access to public services and especially benefits. Information about most benefits is only fully available online. Applications are made online and online interaction is essential for maintaining some benefits (e.g., Universal Credit). An important poverty reduction goal is to maximise people’s income from benefits.

NHS services Digital inclusion helps people to access NHS and care services in a more efficient way that can lead to savings and make more efficient use of staff time. This can be achieved by:

  • more appointments and prescriptions booked online
  • receiving alerts and reminders to avoid missed appointments
  • using remote consultation services like NHS Near Me

Use of telecare services can help people stay in their homes longer reducing the cost of social care and avoid hospital admissions through prevention. The cost of the NHS, at around £18 billion per year, is the largest item of expenditure in Scotland’s budget creating a large motivation to achieve efficiency savings in this area.

A survey of NHS Near Me, which can be accessed via devices, users showed that users found the service beneficial by improving access, reducing the need to travel and reducing the risk of infection. Overall, patients were satisfied with the call and felt that it had helped them to manage their condition.

Third sector support services Digital inclusion allows support organisations to deliver their services more effectively and more efficiently. People who are digitally excluded miss being able to take full advantage of the support on offer.

Where clients are digitally excluded, support staff are using valuable time to complete application forms and to access other online services on their behalf, all of which could be done by the client themselves if they were digitally enabled. Increased access to education

Benefits: Economy / Individual

Digital inclusion reduces the attainment gap for children who otherwise would not be online. Participating in education can help people out of poverty by improving their chances of gaining employment or improving their existing job to gain a higher salary. It can have intergenerational effects such as improving the life chances for children of learners[39].

Overall, it is recognised that lack of digital access is a significant barrier to children's education and that disproportionally affects families in poverty and those otherwise marginalised, such as families within communities of gypsy travellers and displaced people[40].

Following the Covid-19 pandemic more components of further education courses are being delivered online[41]. Increasingly, digital exclusion is a barrier to being able to participate meaningfully in higher education, especially remotely.

The internet also provides access to many free online resources and MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) that are not available offline. Making time savings

Benefits: Individual

Digital inclusion means that people can use online services to save time when undertaking daily essential tasks. People in poverty are often ‘time poor’ as well as being materially poor. This limits their ability to invest in longer term solutions that can help improve their situation.

The CEBR summarises savings realised by digital inclusion as 20 times cheaper than by phone, 30 times cheaper than by post and as much as 50 times cheaper than by face-to-face meetings. Saving money by shopping and banking online

Benefits: Individual

Digital inclusion allows people to save money by finding the best deals online, use price comparison websites, take advantage of discounts by paying with direct debits[42].

Unwanted goods are often available cheaply in online second-hand markets such as eBay, or for free via local community Facebook pages and sites like Gumtree and Freegle.

People on lower incomes are subject to a ‘poverty premium’ – that is, having to pay relatively more for goods and services because of lacking resources and opportunities enjoyed by the better off. Access to ecommerce and a wider range of online goods and services is one way in which the poverty premium can be mitigated.

The CEBR estimate that using price comparison sites, online discounts and taking advantage of other benefits of shopping online, can result in up to £258.31 in yearly savings for individuals. Accessing information and advice

Benefits: Individual

Ready access to advice and information online underpins many of the benefits discussed in this chapter. For instance, securing suitable employment may be aided by accessing employability related advice available online (e.g., on writing a CV, interview technique, identifying ways of enhancing skills).

People may be able to save money by accessing financial advice from reliable sources, or by getting energy saving and efficiency advice (including information about subsidies and grants that may be available for home energy upgrades). Entertainment and leisure

Benefits: Individual / Economy

Popular culture is increasingly, arguably primarily, an online experience, with streaming services, blogs and video sharing sites gradually displacing television and print media. Arguably, someone who has no, or limited, access to the internet is unable to fully engage with the culture of their society.

Access to online entertainment and leisure opportunities can be an important element in maintaining good mental health and can provide a means of personal expression.

Connecting Scotland research participants told us that the ability to easily find songs, videos and programmes online helped to keep them occupied and had a positive impact on their mood and wellbeing. Environment

Benefits Society

Digital inclusion may play a key role in combatting climate change.

It can lead to:

  • less need for journeys due to flexible working and remote appointments thus assisting with net zero targets.
  • reduced use of consumables such as paper due to electronic transactions

A Connecting Scotland strategy around device repair and reuse as a means for digital inclusion would also contribute to the circular economy.

3.4 The Goals of Connecting Scotland

Digital Transformation across the public sector would be challenging without the work of Connecting Scotland.

During stakeholder engagement sessions organised by the Connecting Scotland team, our external partners identified a need to collaborate and connect with each other. There is an expressed need to ensure that all efforts, resources and expertise from all partners and stakeholders are aligned both in the public, private and third sectors to ensure consistency and resilience within the digital ecosystem.

Connecting Scotland aims to bring all digital inclusion organisations under one alliance, where resources, expertise and knowledge is shared in a collective manner to build the digital capacities of our nation, rather than pursuing success independently, with limited impact on individuals and communities in Scotland. The Connecting Scotland team have been proactive in making links with the public, private and third sectors to ensure knowledge sharing and sustainable delivery are embedded in the future delivery of Connecting Scotland, which is person centred, greener and sustainable in years to come.

The vision of Connecting Scotland is a fairer, more equitable Scotland, enabled by digital access for all. This vision will be achieved by reducing the number of people that currently do not have the essential digital skills or confidence to participate in a digital society and providing devices and internet connectivity to those that are unable to afford it.

The Connecting Scotland programme will align to Scotland’s aspirations as an Ethical Digital Nation which envisions a society that trusts digital goods and services to be ethical in their intention, development and delivery and where sustainability and respect for human rights can be demonstrated transparently throughout the value chain.

Connecting Scotland will continue to embed an ethical approach to this digital inclusion programme. Growing as an ethical digital nation and developing trust in the way digital technology is applied is a collective responsibility for everyone that should be shared across multiple sectors, the government, innovators, industry and the individual. This will support the action to raise public awareness and citizenship participation of securing trust in digital goods and services. Connecting Scotland will ensure that there is a knowledge exchange among the public, private sector and third sector on ethical issues to contribute to Scottish ambitions.

Digital goods and services must be produced and used in environmentally sustainable ways and respect the human rights of everyone in the value chain. Connecting Scotland is already engaging with third sector organisations which promotes the Scottish Government’s net zero agenda. Adopting an ethical approach in this way will enable confident and creative digital citizens.

3.5 Risk and constraints

The risk to the people and wider society of doing nothing, or doing the minimum, in response to the digital divide, is far greater than any risk related to the implementation of the Connecting Scotland programme. Taking no action means that a portion of society remains digitally excluded and are unable to benefit from a Digital Scotland. Those that are digitally excluded from a digital society are unable to contribute to the economy and realise individual and social benefits in the same way those that are digitally included can.

It is recognised that there is an overarching risk in that the direction of the programme must change to be sustainable longer term. This means a move away from the provision of “1 to 1” devices in the main, and a move towards a more systems-based approach where the problem is considered holistically. It is recognised that this is a risk in terms of political commitment, however the ambition is still there to achieve the goals in Programme for Government. The route to this may be more circuitous than first envisaged.

3.5.1 Financial Risk

One of the key risks to the programme is the lack of future funding. Funding requirements for the initiative consist of an upfront capital cost and ongoing expenditure associated with the provision of data, devices and training. Failure to obtain funding would not address digital inequality in the country which creates pressure on other public services as people are unable to use digital options, usually less expensive to run.

3.5.2 Financial estimations differ significantly from actual costs

While every effort has been made to source and corroborate figures, the costs used in the calculations are indicative only. There is a risk that financial estimations may differ significantly from actual costs based on the best and final offer provided by providers of data and devices.

3.5.3 Return on investment will not be immediately evident

Due to the time required to roll out devices and connectivity and upskill individuals in whatever model is adopted, the benefits identified in this business case will not be immediately evident and it may take several months or years to clearly articulate the benefit.

3.5.4 Speed of onboarding Digital Champions

Digital skills and support to learn these is a vital part of Connecting Scotland’s offering. Training of digital skills is dependent on having staff or volunteers within organisations with existing digital skills and availability to support the target group of individuals. These people can then be assigned as Digital Champions (DCs), with time allocated to help clients with basic digital skills such as setting up an email address or using a search engine. There is a risk that there is an inadequate number of staff or volunteers available to support the demand for Digital Champions or that organisations are unwilling to allocate the required amount of staff time for this task.

3.5.5 Ongoing shared vision and buy-in

Connecting Scotland began as a pandemic response. Despite ample evidence of the continuing need for the programme beyond COVID-19, there is a risk that Connecting Scotland loses the connections and goodwill built up since 2020 if it fails to deliver further on addressing digital exclusion.

3.5.6 Identifying target individuals

There is a risk that individuals from the target groups will be difficult to identify and may miss receiving a device, connectivity and training. Local authorities and the third sector will be responsible for providing information to help identify target individuals in partnership with third sector organisations, for example local charities.

3.5.7 Misuse of resources

At present, some sections of society are unable to access the internet, through no fault of their own. If all barriers to connectivity are removed, this may make some problems worse – for example, inactivity could become more of an issue, online bullying could occur, or internet facilities could be misused for criminal purposes. Training and safeguards will be put in place to mitigate this risk, but it cannot be eradicated completely.

3.6 Dependencies and key stakeholders

Additional dependencies exist within other policy areas, such as Health and Social Care, Housing, Education and Employment. The trajectory and focus of the identified opportunities rest with the host policy areas, and as such, are dependent on the fiscal situations they are navigating. The host policy areas also have their own independent timescales and objectives which may impact and influence results and activities of Connecting Scotland. We will not be able to specify partnership programme explorations unless our objectives align with the host policy areas. This might impact the intended results for Connecting Scotland.

3.6.1 Key stakeholders

To deliver the vision of Digital Citizenship for all, the primary stakeholders are the people of Scotland.

To enable the vision through the Connecting Scotland programme, the following key stakeholders will provide input and/or support:

  • People of Scotland: The target groups identified to provide devices and connectivity to close the digital divide will provide input and feedback into the benefits and success of the initiative. The people of Scotland that are already included will provide input into improvements of digital services to further enable a digital society.
  • Scottish Government: The Scottish Government will be responsible for funding the initiative and aligning with existing policies and strategies to supercharge a digital society. SG will be responsible for improving the services available for individuals based on feedback received and easing access to digital services.
  • Local Authorities: Providing support in identifying specific individuals and distributing devices and connectivity to the target groups within each of the 32 local authorities. Local Authorities will also play a pivotal role in ensuring join up of the current digital inclusion partners.
  • Third Sector: The organisations that will provide insight and support into identifying specific individuals within the target groups that are most at risk of digital exclusion. Provision of essential digital skills training to target group individuals. The Third Sector will play a pivotal role in joining up the digital inclusion system, like that of Local Authorities.
  • Private Sector: The support of business will be vital to the success of Connecting Scotland, with much of Scotland’s economy dependent on the tech sector and several big-name firms having a base in the country.
  • NHS Scotland: Identify improvements in services and areas that could be supported by digital inclusivity. Provide feedback on the adoption of digital services and use of online references to reduce the number of appointments that could have been resolved via self-service. Social prescribing is also increasing and will be aligned with Connecting Scotland principles.
  • Support: Provision of support for devices, infrastructure and people throughout the engagement to be provided by either one or combination of Scottish Government, suppliers, local authorities and third sector organisations.
  • Data Infrastructure Providers: Selected supplier responsible for providing connectivity to target groups via mobile data or fixed line broadband.
  • Device Providers: Selected provider(s) supplying devices as identified through requirements by Scottish Government.

The programme is owned by the Digital Citizen Unit (DCU) in the Digital Directorate of the Scottish Government[43]. The Digital Directorate are responsible for:

  • developing and implementing the Scottish Government's Digital Strategy for Scotland
  • delivering broadband connectivity
  • providing a foundation for the digital delivery of public services
  • raising levels of digital participation amongst individuals and businesses
  • transforming Scotland's digital economy.

The DCU will be responsible for provisioning of programmes and projects to achieve the outcomes detailed in this business case and closing the digital divide in Scotland.

3.7 Conclusion

As evidenced above, the Connecting Scotland Programme provides an opportunity to make digital inclusion a reality for everyone in Scotland. The existence and continuation of the Connecting Scotland programme is strategically important, given that so much government interaction with citizens requires people to have online access. Connecting Scotland helps bridge the gap between those who are digitally included and those who are not.

The importance of connectivity has been demonstrated consistently throughout the evaluation process for the earlier phases of the programme. Furthermore, this programme provides an opportunity to inspire everyone to think digitally in an ethical and sustainable way and support businesses, public sector and third sector organisations to make Scotland one of the most digitally active societies in the world. Strategically, it is considered that it would not be affordable to Scotland’s ambition to not proceed with the Connecting Scotland programme. The options set out below identify how this can be achieved within current financial restraints.



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