Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council becomes one of the lead local authorities in ‘Digital Region’ South Yorkshire, to deploy the first universally accessible superfast broadband network in the UK
Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (BMBC) positioned itself as one of the leading local authorities to embrace the drive to provide increased public access to digital information. It has achieved this through the recent launch of a number of digital initiatives including Totally Online Barnsley, the Barnsley launch of Digital Region and the opening of the Bull TCL Data Centre.
These initiatives have received endorsement from digital inclusion champion, Martha Lane Fox, who launched the Race Online 2012 Programme earlier this month. As a visitor to the Barnsley national launch of ‘Get Online Day’, Martha Lane Fox commented: “Barnsley really is embracing the digital inclusion agenda with the launch of these initiatives. In the UK one in every four people still don’t use the internet and unfortunately it’s the people facing the toughest times who could actually benefit the most from what technology has to offer – from saving money to finding information that could make their lives easier and cheaper. Barnsley is a fantastic example of how communities can benefit from being online and has clearly demonstrated that through innovation, forward thinking and engaging in good public-private partnerships, the goals of digital inclusion can be achieved.”
Totally Online Barnsley is part of a South Yorkshire-wide Making IT Personal project, which is supported by £1.5 million of European funding and £1.5 million from the UK Government. The project has set ambitious targets to get everyone in the borough online and using computers by 2012. “It’s a case of making technology readily available and educating people so that they understand what the internet can offer them,” explains Phil Coppard, Barnsley Council Chief Executive. “Plus by providing support and training this will give individuals the confidence and skills needed to help navigate the digital world.”
Barnsley recently played host to the official Get Online Day flagship event, which was split across two UK online centre venues – Royston Community Learning Centre and Barnsley Central Library. This was the first of more than 700 other Get Online Day events that will take place at online centres across the UK.
To support the technology infrastructure requirements of this project, BMBC have worked in partnership with Bull who have invested in a new state-of-the art data centre, the official opening of which coincided with the Get Online Day. The data centre is one of the outcomes from joint venture company, Bull TCL, which was formed by Barnsley and Bull in 2006 to manage the council’s information technology operations and to compete for IT support contracts in the wider world.
The data centre now provides a cost-effective, reliable and secure ICT infrastructure which has laid the foundations for improvements in both council services and further economic development in the borough. To date successes include substantial cost and energy savings under the government’s efficiency agenda as well as the securing of commercial contracts worth several million pounds.
Commenting at the launch of the data centre, Didier Lamouche, Chairman and CEO of Bull stated: “Bull has invested in this new, state-of-the-art data centre in Barnsley because we see the business opportunities being created as the borough embraces digital technology. This is a pioneering partnership which has attracted much attention from other UK councils who now have the ability to utilise and benefit from the data centre facilities established. For Barnsley, this will help support local skills enhancement, community regeneration as well as the digital agenda to get people online.”
The drive for digital inclusion has meant that BMBC is one of the four South Yorkshire lead local authorities in Digital Region in deploying the first universally accessible superfast broadband networks in the UK. It will cover 97 percent of South Yorkshire’s domestic and business properties, placing it at the forefront of digital technologies. The high speed network is being built by Digital Region in partnership with Thales UK. Digital Region is a wholly owned by Yorkshire Forward and the four local authorities of South Yorkshire, who attracted investment of over £90 million, including £30 million from the European Region Development Fund.
The high-speed service is seen as vital to developing the region’s economy as the Digital Region network will also attract inward investment and enable the delivery of more effective public services. The network will be available in some areas from early next year and completed in 2012. Once in place the network will bring a broadband service with speeds in the region of 25Mbit/s to 550,000 homes, 40,000 businesses and 1.3 million people in Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield.
BMBC is in the process of recruiting 21 unemployed people to be trained as digital outreach trainers. They will work with their communities to help people get online and maximise the opportunities the digital world offers.
Further commenting on these digital initiatives Lane Fox said: “Through the robust infrastructure that has been developed, the local people of Barnsley are already taking advantage of the technology on offer. There are some really inspirational stories here, which just reaffirm the fact that the internet can open up new opportunities that help both individuals and communities. I hope these innovative projects inspire other councils to follow in their footsteps.”