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Chamber and committees

Public Audit Committee

Community empowerment: Covid-19 update further information from SURF

Letter to the Convener from David Leitch, Chief Executive of Scotland's Regeneration Forum, 30 November 2021

Dear Convener

SURF would like to take up the Convener’s request to add a further matter to this evidence session, which we did not have chance to raise on the day. One significant issue that our network highlighted to us via our ‘COVID-19: Lessons from the Frontline’ research survey, concerned the continued existence of a ‘digital divide’ in Scotland.

There were reports from many of the deprived communities across Scotland that SURF engages with, of the reality that Scotland is not online. We summarised this issue as follows in the report:

“The impact of the digital divide in intensifying isolation and blocking knowledge exchange has been heightened. The immediate response of many organisations was to move as much of their programmes as possible to online. Those who owned mobiles, tablets and computers with internet access were able to find information, instructions, support and resources online. They were able to communicate easily with the outside world - and the outside world was able to respond.

But a significant minority were not able to participate. Organisations found that for the poorest, the cost of broadband access alone was enough to make the use of digital communication unattainable. And that was even without the cost of renting or buying the equipment itself. An additional section of society was also unable to benefit from digital access because they had never learned to use it. Organisations in SURF’s network responded in some instances by diverting funds to buy equipment and others recruited volunteers to leaflet and visit households which would otherwise have been isolated.”

To provide one example, a senior representative of a Glasgow-based youth employability charity reported to us in the initial weeks of the pandemic crisis period that:

“One thing that has become abundantly clear to us in recent weeks is, that even in 2020, not everyone in society has the means or the skills to instantly transition to a world of remote working, learning and living. Technology has become front and centre of how we will navigate these unchartered waters.”

The Larkhall Community Network referred to during the session with the Committee also stressed the importance of leafleting and phoning people as means to reach ad make contact with those who are not digitally skilled. They were also dependant on family and friends outwith the community alerting them to isolated and vulnerable individuals wo were not online.

A link to SURF’s ‘COVID-19: Lessons from the Frontline’ report follows:

Thank you for accepting this additional submission. We would be pleased to articulate further upon request.

Euan Leitch
Chief Executive
SURF - Scotland's Regeneration Forum