On the 29th April it was announced that Councillor Sean Fielding would become the new lead for the GMCA Digital Portfolio, adding this to his existing portfolio to become the GMCA Employment, Skills and Digital Lead.

We spoke to Councillor Fielding to find out more about his new role.

  • What are you looking forward to about taking on the Digital Portfolio?

I’m delighted to add digital to my existing portfolio of education, skills, employment and apprenticeships. Elise was a formidable champion of the digital agenda in Greater Manchester and I hope I will be able to maintain the pace that she set.

Digital and skills policy will be an enormous part of how we rebuild our economy after the coronavirus crisis is over. There is so much potential to ‘build back better’ through the choices we make in these areas. We really can set an example for the rest of the country to follow by ensuring that we consider people, and not just the economy, when making decisions moving forward.

This is an exciting time to be involved in digital across the region. We have set out a clear ambition for Greater Manchester to be a top five European digital city-region and to be recognised globally for its digital innovation.

We want our citizens’ lives to be bettered, and for them to be empowered by the opportunities a digitally fuelled city-region provides. We have seen how, despite the challenges of coronavirus, many of those who have worked from home have seen an improved work life balance and our ambitions around gigabit broadband will enable people to continue realising these post-crisis.

Here in Greater Manchester we are investing heavily in digital infrastructure, connectivity and transport and as a region we offer a breadth and depth of expertise across digital and creative services, ecommerce, technology hardware and software. This investment is creating a truly digital place that innovators from across the globe want to tap into and a place where businesses already here can thrive. 

  • What is the Greater Manchester Technology Fund?

The Greater Manchester Technology Fund (opens new page) will soon make ‘kit bundles’ available to disadvantaged and digitally excluded pupils, working closely with schools and colleges to identify those in most need. A ‘digital kit bundle’ will include a laptop and the required tools to get online.

The fund aims to provide learners at risk of digital isolation with the technology and connectivity needed to continue their learning at home while schools and colleges remain closed.

It is estimated that levels of digital exclusion are up to four times higher amongst those schools with the highest level of pupils eligible for a free school meal, with 19% of pupils in Greater Manchester claiming free school meals. Provision of this kit will initially focus on recipients of free school meals, allowing these young people to continue their education from home, stay in touch with friends and family and provides teachers and tutors with a mechanism for support.

Our young people, their parents and guardians need to feel assured their education will not suffer during this period of lockdown. We also hope these young learners will benefit through reconnecting with their peers and school network.

  • What has the Greater Manchester Digital response to Covid-19 been like?

The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting all areas of life in many and substantial ways, the portfolio have been working hard to identifying ways digital technologies can be used to improve people’s lives across Greater Manchester. This has not only included new innovations but assessing the possibility of bringing forward priorities identified in the Digital Blueprint (opens new page). 

Along with the Technology Fund, we’ve been involved in developing a new Community Hub Application, already launched in Bury. The application provides a platform that all parties involved in logging, assigning and volunteering can access, helping to coordinate contact between centres, Hub Managers and volunteers. It’s been built on our Greater Manchester Digital Platform, which means it’s scalable and we’re working with other localities to rapidly deploy the app.

  • What is next for the Digital Portfolio?

Our Digital Blueprint has set the next chapter in our ambition to be recognised as a world-leading digital city region, with an ongoing commitment to taking an open, innovative and connective approach to delivering that ambition.

We remain committed to being a digital city-region with a difference. By putting people at the heart of our plans we aim for a more inclusive approach that builds on our greatest asset.

As a region we’re focussing on digital becoming the way we empower our people and enable innovative public services. We need to create, scale and digitally enable our businesses and we know we have what is needed to become a global, digital influencer. For Greater Manchester to achieve its ambitions we need the whole digital ecosystem to pull together. This concept of collaboration is at the heart of the blueprint.

With a joined-up approach we want to ensure the digital portfolio’s role across wider linked GMCA work is connected for bigger impact. Particularly with our Work & Skills, Green City-Region, Reform, Growth and Infrastructure programmes across all districts to emphasise that we are more than just the sum of our parts.

  • Do you have prior experience of the digital sector?

My experience of digital is having seen how technology is an enabler right across the economy. Whether it was the way that digital stock records revolutionised the way I worked during my first Saturday job in a supermarket as a student, to the digital record keeping that has improved the effectiveness of the political campaigning I undertake in my current role, or the way that videoconferencing has driven major efficiencies for staff and elected officials at the Council and the GMCA. I think it would be doing the benefits that digital can drive a huge injustice by thinking of digital as a discreet sector.

Digital will ripple right through all sectors of the economy and drive benefits and efficiencies across the board. It is a truly exciting time to be leading on this important brief.


Article Published: 06/05/2020 15:58 PM