Connecting the county digitally

The county council has set out its vision for a ‘robust digital infrastructure’ in Northumberland to help ensure that communties are connected.

The authority’s digital strategy, which went before the economic services scrutiny committee on Tuesday morning, aims to set out the ‘opportunities which digital infrastructure can provide in connecting our communities, enhancing businesses and supporting economic growth’.

Digital Northumberland is about increasing digital inclusion for communities, developing modern, more efficient and joined-up electronic public services and improving the county’s economy.

There are five main objectives for the initiative, ranging from the economy to health and wellbeing.

The first aim to be the best connected rural county in the UK, which will require fibre broadband to 95 per cent of premises by March 2016.

The council itself wants to become a truly digital organisation, meaning digital transactions and which also requires improving civic engagement via digital methods.

The third objective relates to growth and ensuring businesses can access the digital infrastructure they need to create a thriving economy.

Fourth is the hope that all residents will be able go online through the provision of public-access points and developing the digital skills of individuals.

Finally, the fifth objective relates to using digital technology as part of a wider support package to promote the health and wellbeing of communities.

While a number of actions are in progress, some of the ideas that are set to be explored include free wifi access across towns in Northumberland, satellite broadband for rural schools and expanding library vans to provide digital access.

In terms of accessing council services, the report states that by 2018, the authority anticipates that 80 per cent of interactions with the council will be handled digitally with the remainder being done via telephone or face to face.

To support that, one of the initial projects is to co-ordinate existing public, private and voluntary-sector digital-access points across Northumberland and advertise them on the county council website.