When the G7’s Digital and Technology Ministers met a few weeks ago in the run-up to the Cornwall summit, they pledged to put digital technology at the heart of a more productive and resilient global economy.
They said the pandemic had underlined the importance of digital technologies to economies and societies worldwide, and accelerating their uptake was vital to economic recovery and socially inclusive growth.
The UK’s Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Together we have agreed a number of priorities to make sure the digital revolution is a democratic one that enhances global prosperity for all.”
In Cornwall, technology is driving exciting developments in areas like renewable energy, mining, data and space. And throughout the pandemic we have seen how important technology has been to keep our communities connected.
The internet has been a vital tool for people working from home, for school children to access remote learning, and for businesses to reach and serve their customers. Facetime, Zoom and Teams have become part of our everyday vocabulary, keeping us in touch with loved ones, colleagues and clients.
Some of these activities, born of necessity, now look here to stay. Businesses have realised that homeworking can be just as productive (or even more so) than being in the office. Meetings can happen virtually, rather than physically. And more people have embraced things like digital banking, remote healthcare and online shopping during lockdown.
So there’s no doubt the pandemic has driven a deeper and wider uptake of technology.
But it has also highlighted the digital divide, because in the UK today there are still around 1.5 million homes with no access to the internet. Of those, 40% are either people over 65, lower income households or the financially vulnerable who remain digitally excluded.
In Cornwall, there are still around 34,000 people who have never used the internet, and some 2,000 children without access to a computer or affordable data.
So we welcome the G7’s commitment to use technology as an agent of positive social change. We’ve seen first-hand the difference that fast, reliable connectivity can make, especially in rural areas like Cornwall where we are investing £50m, with UK Government support, to close the digital divide.