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At the August meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council’s Strategy Policy and Resources Committee, the Council, on the back of a Digital Poverty Motion proposed by Newry City Councillor, Cllr Michael Savage, Council have agreed, subject to ratification at Full Council, to set up a Digital Poverty Working Group to tackle inequalities in broadband access across the District.

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

Cllr Savage said "With our schoolchildren dependent on blended learning throughout the Pandemic the inequalities in digital access are now apparent and the motion attempted to address that, as well as the need for broadband access for those in extreme poverty who need access to online benefits portals, and providing better connectivity to many local rural residents currently struggling to get adequate broadband for their families."

Working with key stakeholders and Government Departments the Digital Poverty Working Group will be coordinated by the Community Planning team. 

Membership will include

Council Officers from Community Planning, Community Development and Economic/ Rural Development. 

Statutory Partner Representatives from Education Authority and Regional Colleges 

Community Voluntary Sector Representatives as nominated by the Strategic Stakeholder Forum 

Sports Club Representatives as nominated by Sports Association Newry, Down and South Armagh.

 Aims of working group

Utilise the knowledge and experience of members to better understand the nature of digital poverty across the District and identify where further initiatives are required. 

To understand current activity addressing digital poverty and identify “gaps” in provision as well as opportunities for better coordination and collaboration. 

To identify funding opportunities to support community-based short-term initiatives to address the identified needs 

Cllr Michael Savage.

To design, implement, monitor and report on initiatives assisting families in gaining access to online learning, adequate broadband or appropriate computer equipment. 

 Reporting Update reports on the activity of the Working Group will be provided to Council Committee, the Community Planning Partnership and the Community Coordination Hub. Updates will also be provided to the Strategic Stakeholder Forum through their appointed representatives.

 Cllr Savage's Motion  passed in Council that led to the proposal at the SPR Meeting to set up the Digital Poverty Working Group reads:

 “This Council acknowledges that blended learning is likely to be with us for some time to come due to the graduated easing of restrictions relating to the Pandemic. Council recognises that Digital Poverty needs to be urgently addressed across our district and throughout the North in order to tackle growing inequalities in education with children in many families unable to access online learning due to lack of computers in the home and lack of access to adequate broadband.

 "Council agrees to set up a Working Group to work with local schools, community groups, youth organisations and sports clubs to devise a community-based short-term initiative to assist families to gain access to online learning and adequate broadband. 

 "Council calls for a Digital Poverty Task Force to be set up within the NI Executive to ensure that no child loses out in their education due to lack of access to a computer or broadband and requests that the Council Chief Executive writes to the Education Minister and the Executive Office outlining the Council’s call for a Digital Poverty Taskforce to be established.”

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