Empowering people through digital

Written by Phil Swan, Director for Digital, Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

In 2020, we published our Digital Blueprint for Greater Manchester and were clear in our commitment to being a digital city-region with a difference. By putting people at the heart of our plans we aim for a more inclusive approach that builds on our greatest asset.

The blueprint set out the next chapter in our ambition to be recognised as a world-leading digital city region, with an ongoing commitment to taking an open, innovative and connective approach to delivering that ambition.

Our priorities are clearly focused on delivering benefits that help the city-region’s people lead healthier, happier lives. We want our citizens’ lives to be bettered, and for them to be empowered by the myriad of opportunities a digitally fuelled city-region provides.

And that’s evidenced through our priority to empower people through digital –  our assurance that everyone in Greater Manchester, whatever their age, location, or situation, can benefit from the opportunities digital brings.

We’ve committed to ensuring we offer digital access to public services that is joined up, user-friendly and makes sense and want to make sure everyone can get online to access public services within their community, help everyone to be confident internet users and avoid internet harms like online fraud.

A project integral to the delivery of that commitment is our work in early years digitisation. Work we hope will give children in Greater Manchester the best possible start in life, and we’re using digital as a way of doing that. We’ve started by developing an ‘Early Years’ app that digitises the paper-based assessments currently used to review a child’s development up to the age of 2.5 years.

Crowned winner of Digital Public Service Innovation of the Year Award 2021, the app provides parents and carers of children across Greater Manchester with a digital application to complete assessments that are currently paper-based and ensures that parents and carers have access to both completed assessments and other supporting information completed by the professional and gives the user much more control over their own data. It became especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it reduced the need for physical contact.

It’s helping health visitors to identify developmental issues earlier and provide support for the child and their families quicker than current methods and is freeing up valuable clinical time for health visiting teams – thought to be worth around £10m per year in productivity once rolled out to all of Greater Manchester.

We’ve also made progress in other priority areas, with the recent digitisation of the case management system of Greater Manchester’s A Bed Every Night (ABEN) service. The system streamlines data used by professionals working across the ABEN service, providing timely information to enable targeted support to individuals. The digitisation enhances current user experience, by providing a common service that is intuitive and easy to use.

And we’ve just celebrated 12 months since the launch of our digital inclusion taskforce, a taskforce integral in achieving our bold ambition to make Greater Manchester a 100% digitally enabled city region – an ambition supported by our Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham.

Following his re-election in May 2021, Andy announced further ambitions to become one of the first city-regions in the world to equip all under-25s, over-75s and disabled people with the skills, connectivity and technology to get online. So, we’ve established a Digital Inclusion Action Network to support this, with the network leading targeted action to combat digital exclusion with a specific focus on supporting those groups.

The action network will shape the outcomes and areas of focus for the taskforce and will enable us to work in collaboration with businesses, local authorities, schools, voluntary and charitable organisations to drive forward this ambition.

We remain in the throes of battling the consequences of the pandemic and we continue to focus on supporting the significant and immediate needs of those impacted most by the situation, and on building a safe environment for the people of Greater Manchester as lockdown lifts.

Weknowthat the health and wellbeing of our people and our economy are intrinsically interconnected,and we’ve been amazed by people’s ability to evolve and adapt to a very different world, almost overnight.

And we’ve been moved by the kindness of strangers andneighboursalike, reminding us of the real power of local communities.

At the same time, we’re looking ahead, building for a better future. We’re creating a place where anything digital is possible.

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