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Thursday, 30.05.2024
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Councillors have unanimously backed calls to review how local authority services are offered in Sunderland to ensure nobody is left behind as part of ‘smart city’ plans.

It comes after a motion was put before the latest meeting of Sunderland City Council seeking to ensure everyone in the city can continue to access local authority services, “even if they cannot or do not want to do so digitally”.

Raised by Liberal Democrat councillors, and titled “a smart city that doesn’t leave anyone behind”, the proposal asked that the leading council cabinet review how local authority services are offered in Sunderland.

This is to ensure appropriate steps are taken to ensure “nobody is put under undue pressure to access a service digitally if they are not able to do so independently”.

The motion also called for the council to ensure “analogue access is provided efficiently, effectively and without barriers” and a review of policies governing telephone calls by residents to the council’s customer service network is undertaken.

The proposals won unanimous support from councillors across the chamber at the meeting at City Hall on Wednesday (March 20).

Liberal Democrat councillor Heather Fagan, in proposing the motion, said they are hearing from residents “that life is becoming harder due to the need to be online”.

She added: “There is a growing concern amongst the digitally isolated that they are being forgotten about as more services are moved online or accessed via apps.

“Accessible services and offline alternatives are essential to ensure people are not left behind in an increasingly connected world.

“With each new development in technology there are groups of people who get left behind everytime. This also makes existing inequalities around race, gender, age, ability and income worse.”

She concluded: “We just need to stop and think everytime we move a step further in the digital world, that we don’t take a step back in the world of those who are digitally isolated.”

The motion also stated the review will include ensuring “the council’s goal is that the cost of services does not differ depending on whether you pay using cash or whether you use electronic payment methods”.

Labour’s councillor Phil Tye added they support the motion, noting it is also important they encourage partners, such as health organisations, to ensure those not comfortable or able to use digital technologies do not miss out.

He said: “Those that don’t have any family, don’t have anyone to help them, are completely lost.

“I have no doubt in my mind that there are residents panicking and panicking as digital technology comes further and further into the fore and they are unable to do anything.”

He added there are a number of digital health hubs in the city where staff can teach or aid residents carrying out tasks with technology, and suggested that the council and political parties make residents aware of this in their newsletters.

Councillor Antony Mullen, leader of the Conservative group on the council, added they agree it is important to “continue to think about people who are digitally disengaged” as the council develops its ‘smart city’ policy.

He said: “We’re also conscious that there will be a core of people among our residents who either by preference or through no choice of their own, such as lack of skills, will not be a part of this new digital world.

“Whilst we want to see the smart city agenda developed and integrated around the city, this [motion] seems like a sensible provision to act as a safety net for people who aren’t digitally capable.”

Labour’s councillor Paul Stewart, cabinet secretary, said they “all share the same desire” and it is important they “always keep it under review to ensure that those people who are just not digitally minded” can still access council services.


Autor(en)/Author(s): Nic Marko

Quelle/Source: Sunderland Echo, 27.03.2024

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