Leeds business leaders vow to reduce the city’s digital divide

LEEDS is in danger of becoming a divided city because many of its residents lack basic digital skills, a major business event was told.

The event organised by Leeds Community Foundation heard that a quarter of the city’s residents fear they have been left behind by the digital revolution at a time when many employers are struggling to find staff with the right skills. However, the participants from the public and private sectors vowed to work together to make Leeds a more digitally inclusive city.

The breakfast event highlighted the work being carried out by the foundation to boost the local economy and reduce loneliness.

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Speaking afterwards, Stuart Clarke, the director of the Leeds Digital Festival said: “Leeds is growing quickly in the tech sector with lots of wealth and lots of jobs being created, but we are in real danger of creating a two-tier city and leaving lots of communities behind.

Breakfast event at Engage Interactive, Munro House, Duke Street, Leeds. Pictured (left to right) Speakers Alex Willcocks, Engage, Jason Tutin, Leeds City Council, Vic Berry, Get Technology Together, Greg Wright, Deputy Business Editor of The Yorkshire Post, Kate Hainsworth, CEO, Leeds Community Foundation, Ash Rassaq, CATCH, and Dawid Danielczyk, CATCH Leeds.

“The key thing is co-ordination. There are so many amazing projects and organisations but if we are not co-ordinating them and linking them together we are in danger of missing entire communities out or doubling up on work. We should do more to come together.”

The Leeds Digital Festival has become one of the biggest events of its kind in the country and acts as a showcase for the city’s booming technology sector.

However, Leeds Community Foundation has been alarmed by a survey which found that one in five people in Leeds claim they lack the digital skills required to participate in the modern world.

Mr Clarke said that firms are also worried about skills shortages.

Leading business figures attended the event. Picture: James Hardisty

He added: “We have a real problem at the moment with getting the right amount of talent into these fast-growing companies.

“It would be better for the city if we can bring in that home grown talent rather than having to ship them in from elsewhere.”

He called for more engagement with teachers and headteachers to make them aware of the wide variety of digital jobs that are available.

“A lot of it is about role models,’’ he added. “If nobody in your community works in tech then you’re not going to think about having a career in tech. So you have to reach out as a tech sector and go into these schools and communities and say. ‘I’m like you and you could be me in three to five years.”

Picture James Hardisty

“It will help to keep more of the wealth in the city and people then start working in larger companies. They split off to build their own companies. We can keep home grown talent in the city and people don’t have to commute long distances.”

Kate Hainsworth, the CEO of Leeds Community Foundation, said she was concerned that gaps in skills and knowledge may be widening.

She said: “The giant strides that are being made in terms of digital progress do mean that those who are struggling to engage are getting left further and further behind.”

Digital education can play a significant role in protecting people from cyber crime.

Picture James Hardisty

“As negative forces become more sophisticated, their techniques get more sophisticated,’’ she said. “Public institutions are depending more on digital to be efficient and that is also problematic for individuals for whom digital is a challenge.”

“There is a lot of fantastic work that’s happening at grassroots level. The council are doing great work through their libraries and ‘100 per cent digital’ schemes. It’s just a question of bringing all that together.

“If we can play a role in that we will be delighted to do so.

“Long term relationships are the ones that we try to nurture within the foundation. It’s bringing expertise into the communities, where they already have those strong relationships,’’ said Ms Hainsworth.

“It’s much more likely to be understood and shared.”

The roundtable, which is the first of a series hosted by the foundation, was chaired by Greg Wright, The Yorkshire Post’s deputy business editor. It was held at Engage Interactive in Leeds.

The series of roundtables will bring together leaders from the private and public sectors to share expertise, ideas and ambitions.

Many business leaders have become school governors to improve links with education.

Kate Hainsworth, the CEO of Leeds Community Foundation, said: “There are all sorts of ways of getting involved, perhaps by being a trustee of a community group that is focusing on digital.

“For those who don’t quite see the opportunity of digital, working through trusted mediators means they are much more likely to take messages on board.”

Further information about becoming a school governor can be found at www.leeds.gov.uk/schoolgovernors