SPARC sets out rural digital strategy for the UK's South Pennines region
Research* carried out in the HD8 and HD9 postcode areas by E RADAR and the Digital Policy Alliance for the EU Commission-backed DigiChampz Initiative shows that changing behaviours at work, rest and play are driving a digital renaissance across our rural regions. But, policy makers are slow to recognise the massive opportunities modern living creates for rural areas, preferring to support urban centres instead.
Rural and urban digital economies are interdependent upon each other, components in a sustainable ecosystem that, if unlocked and fully realized, could add as much as £63 billion to UK GDP.**
SPARC's seven point rural digital strategy for the South Pennines.
"Provide multiple solution, fit for purpose broadband to organisations, consumers and citizens across the SPARC region."
Smart rural communities are able to choose from at least 3 superfast broadband providers. This encourages more market competition and promotes better consumer choice.
"To enhance and develop the e skills of local business organisations and their workforce by building a network of recognised digital mentors to help support and grow the local rural digital economy."
Entrepreneurs and business owners often do not know what they need to know about the digital economy. But they do know their business well. Help from recognised digital business mentors with e strategic planning and e project management goes hand-in-hand with support to improve the general e skills of employers and employees alike. These include how to sell online, social media, advertising and marketing, customer service, as well as cyber risk management and cyber security essentials.
Local community groups and citizens can also benefit from recognised digital champions who can facilitate e learning, digital inclusion, and health and wellbeing across the region. This is especially important to those who are isolated in the community and/or experience loneliness.
"Establish online trading platforms in local communities to unlock the value of rural supply chains, cottage industries, and local producers and manufacturers."
There's strength in numbers! Local businesses and community groups can work together to sell locally-made quality products as well as services through supported, regionally-branded online trading hubs. Groups can work together in association in order to target carefully local, national and global markets such as China, India and South America. This allows for investment back into the local economy, resulting in more and better jobs and further local economic development.
"Promote digital engagement/inclusion for local businesses, their customers and consumers through a network of community enterprise hubs."
Over 4.2 million people now work some or all of the time from home. Many pubs, cafes and restaurants are now offering free Wifi to meet the demands of the modern workforce as well as to help boost their footfall. A network of recognised community enterprise hubs across our rural towns and villages, for example in libraries, can provide hot desking for workers as well as additional information and administrative support, when required. Community enterprise hubs can also provide networking opportunities for businesses.
"Create the Pennine Pound to encourage local spend and keep money circulating locally."
Local currencies have been a huge success in Totnes, Bristol and Brixton in order to support shops and businesses. The introduction of a Pennine Pound can support a range of activities, especially tourism. A local credit union can support the Pennine Pound and offer both hard currency and digital payment to local participants which meet industry and government standards.
6. Data Centres
"Invest in data centres to promote cutting edge technology and to take advantage of the 'Northern Powerhouse' strategy."
Investment in just one well designed data centre can kickstart a whole range of opportunities for the South Pennines' rural digital economy. We have unlimited access to eco power resources (e.g. wind, water and solar power) as well as good infrastructure. There are brownfield sites available in the region which can support data centres and thus provide local investment and employment in the fast-growing data industries sector.
7. Stakeholder Engagement
"Work smarter with organisations, businesses and communities that share the SPARC vision."
Like urban centres, our businesses and local community groups must get much smarter to realise the opportunities and benefits of the digital economy. SPARC acts as a digital ambassador to provide a strong unified voice in order to attract more investment, create more and better jobs, and promote the general well-being and economic prosperity of the valleys in the South Pennines region.
* The research will be made available to the public from September 2015
** Source: "Make or Break: the UK's Digital Future", House of Lords, 2015