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Mayor wants to get more of Bristol online

Bristol Mayor George Ferguson would appear to favour getting as much as Bristol online if we read the tweet below correctly.

As can be seen Mr Ferguson’s tweet was in response to one from Sam Downie all about the possible negative effects of the impending introduction by the government of Universal Credit – a benefit which will be administered almost entirely online.

What Bristol Wireless would like to ask Mr Ferguson (and expect him to answer in the comments below in more than the 140 characters permitted by Twitter. Ed.) is how does he intend to fund/enable getting people online at a time when he’s implementing some £35 mn. of cuts to the Bristol City Council revenue budget?

C’mon George, don’t be shy now. 🙂

8 Responses to Mayor wants to get more of Bristol online

  1. Stephen Hilton February 25, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    Steve, Sam, Bristol City Council, as you know, has been working for many years to help get people on line. From being one of the first authorities to offer free computers in libraries (via the People’s Network), to our network of B-Open Wi-Fi hotspots, to the 1000’s of recycled and refurbished council PC’s that we have supplied to less well off households via ByteBack, to the exemplary work undertaken in the community by Knowle West Media Centre and our Get IT Together programme, funded by BT. But I agree that we will have to rise to the challenge of Welfare Reform, and channel shift more generally by providing more support with less cash available.

    I have spoken to the Mayor about helping to source more surplus PC’s from business so that we can increase the ByteBack scheme. We may need to find an increased pool of volunteers and encourage our own front line council staff to become digital inclusion champions. I think a lot can be achieved just by helping and encouraging those people who are able to interact with public services on line – leaving more capacity for telephone and the face to face contact when people really need it. Of course, we also need to improve the quality and accessibility of our own line services, some of which offer a pretty poor user experience at present.

    So those are my thoughts, what other ideas do you have?

  2. Stephen Hilton February 26, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    Bristol City Council has been pretty active in supporting people to get on line. From being the first Local Authority to offer free Internet access in libraries via the People’s Network to our B-Open network of Wi-Fi hotspots; the Get It Together programme, which helps older people get IT skills; the 1000’s of refurbished council PC’s that have been recycled to less well off homes via ByteBack; to the exemplary work of our community partner – Knowle West Media Centre. However, I agree with Sam that Welfare Reform is a big challenge but also a big opportunity. If we can get more people who are able using online council and Government services, then scarce face to face contact can be made available for those who really need it…. But I also accept that council online service need to be better and easier to access if we are to achieve this shift.

    I have asked the Mayor to help us source more surplus PC’s from business so that the ByteBack scheme can be extended. What other ideas do you have about what can be done (at little cost, of course!)


    • Steve Woods February 26, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

      Hi Stephen

      Many thanks for your comments.

      However, it would still be good if the Mayor himself responded in person since the question after all was addressed to him personally.

      Whilst I note that the refurbished computer scheme has no doubt been of benefit to many disadvantaged people in Bristol, I would question its long-term viability as people move increasingly to mobile phones and tablets. Indeed, here in Bristol Wireless we have noticed a decline in our refurbished PC sales; people seem more willing to buy laptops than they are PCs.

      Furthermore – and here I’m speaking in a purely personal capacity, not as a representative of Bristol Wireless – I would question whether it is fair for council tax payers to subsidise the provision of PCs to the disadvantaged, particularly at a time when council services are to be cut by £35 mn. even though council tax is being increased by almost 2%. There’s no way that the £35 charged to recipients covers the administration (in terms of officer time and resources) of the scheme, let alone the wiping and refurbishment of the machines, particularly as the latter also entails Byteback sourcing sufficient screens for the base units they receive from you. I’d be particularly interested to hear your own views or those of the council on this matter.

      Nevertheless, Bristol City Council is to be commended for opening up its wifi for public use (although I’m intrigued as to why the council’s wifi network won’t let me run such basic network testing commands as ping) and public access provision in libraries. However, more of the latter is still needed: every community centre should have free network access; all the more so since many businesses such as pubs and cafés now do so as a matter of course.

      When it comes to training people to use the new devices mentioned at the start of this response, I am pleased to note that Knowle West Media Centre has recently started providing tuition for these. More organisations need encouraging to do likewise. I remember from my economics lectures at university that providing training is regarded as investment in human capital. Unfortunately, the UK has always attempted to do some aspects of that investment on the cheap – a tactic that I would condemn, particularly as the modern world requires skills that are more based on cerebral rather than physical skills. By cutting budgets for training, the UK is ensuring its own future obscurity.

      • Stephen Hilton February 28, 2013 at 5:16 pm #

        Hi Steve, it was the Mayor who asked me to respond on his behalf. I am sure you will appreciate that he has a lot to deal with at the moment but rest assured that this is an issue that is close to his heart.

        In terms of ByteBack, the council doesn’t put any finding in – just equipment. There is some officer time to help with the coordination. In fact we created an apprenticeship to do this.

        The wiping of drives, etc. is currently part of another ICT contract. I am hoping that we can bring this all under one arrangement at some time in the future.


        • Steve Woods February 28, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

          …but rest assured that this is an issue that is close to his heart.

          I know this is close to George’s heart. I remember the pledge he started at Knowle West Media Centre during the launch of the Digital Neighbourhoods scheme some years ago, encouraging those with IT skills to mentor and provide training to those without them.

  3. Sam Downie February 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Stephen and Woodsy,
    good to read your points and comments here.

    Stephen, this is more about accessibility to a computer as well as tuition and help, as most benefit claimants (who also have disabilities) may not be able to use a computer, let alone know how to fill in a online form, etc.

    Yes there maybe ‘help centres’ in the city, but these are very few and are not in the local areas. At the Central Library, there’s between 4-8 computers available and you can only use these for an hour. Most benefit claimants need more time to use computers.

    Oh and don’t forget, benefit claimants will also be people who have committed crimes.

    Do think about the following points:

    – Security online
    – Security online using webforms

    how will this area be effected and controlled, as public access computers suffer from browsers being hacked etc, and we don’t want our private information being shared do we now…?

    Next, can you read the letters page on the Guardian site, published a few days ago:

    I’ve posted the letters below:

    Plans to move to online-only benefits applications are truly alarming (Report, 22 February). As a volunteer IT tutor in my local library, I recently met a man who had been told to apply for jobseeker’s allowance online. He had no experience of computers or typing and was clearly unable to complete the form in the one hour’s internet session allowed to each library user. Offering to type his answers for him, I found that even daily computer use and many years’ academic research on unemployment benefits had barely prepared me for the task. The form does not allow you to see what you have written on a previous screen. Nor can you see the whole form to find out what will be asked in advance, to look things up. It asks, without warning, for information many people would not have to hand or even know, like their partner’s tax office reference number. The question on marital separation was ambiguous and made no allowance for the situation of a couple becoming reconciled shortly before the claim. In this situation truthful answers made it impossible to get past the internal checks on the form, which the computer system insisted was incomplete or incorrect.

    I have met library users with one hand, construction workers in their 50s with no keyboard knowledge at all, and one lady who could not even read all the letters on the keyboard. Already consigned to the labour market scrapheap, are they now to get no universal credit either?
    Name and address supplied

    • The attack on disability living allowance (Report, 26 February) is insidious. Once the Tories have reduced the level of benefits, they can claim that here are fewer disabled people. This will then allow them to cut back on laws requiring facilities and access for the disabled, which their friends complain cost them too much. Then, when we can’t get out and are out of sight, they can ignore us altogether.
    Henry Malt
    Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

    So Stephen, a refurbished computer may or may not help with online benefit claiming, here’s a question.. just how will claimants afford a computer? will you and the council be giving them away? and will they be powerful enough to not only to fill in webforms on the DWP website for benefits, but also to do word processing for creating a cv.

    Oh and just how will people who have never used a computer, be able to use one? will you be providing the training too?

    Er.. perhaps not. It’s things like this that haven’t been thought about.

    Do think about the UX (the user experience) of all of this, and what’s about to happen come April 2013.

    The local council needs to address this, they aren’t right now, and haven’t done so. People haven’t a clue about whats abut to hit, and what this current government are doing to it’s citizens !

    Do.. think again. And come back to us. Perhaps we can meet at Watershed to discuss this and I can show you what NEEDS to be done.

  4. Sam Downie February 28, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    Oh forgot to add.

    Yes – I’m a consultant for the Go Online service ( ) that was set up by Martha Lane Fox and the Government a few years ago.. and just what have I done for this, apart from attending a conference two years ago..? nothing, as it’s a service that isn’t well supported.

    I’ve challenged Martha Lane Fox over this, and she doesn’t listen, or gets the point of it, she just likes the marketing side of it via its partners, oh and one of them just happens to be Job Centre Plus (DWP).

    Now she’s a peer, and what will she do in the House of Lords…? Sweet F**k all about it, just you wait and see what takes place.

  5. Steve Woods February 28, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    We had a holding response from Mayor George Ferguson via Twitter.