Together, We Will Make a Difference; the North East Has One of the Highest Proportions of People in the United Kingdom That Have Never Used the Internet. Graham Pratt Talks to Go ON UK Chief Executive Graham Walker about How the Charity Is Championing the Battle to Reverse That Trend

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Graham Walker THERE'S no point in building 80 per cent of the Tyne Bridge," says Go ON UK chief executive Graham Walker, the man leading the charge to bring more digital skills to the North East.

"We want everyone to have basic online skills, not just because of the moral and social issue of making sure everyone can join in, but also because of the huge benefits. When you finish the bridge, you can get from one side to the other."

It's quite an appropriate metaphor.

With more than 500,000 people in the North East who are below the basic online skills threshold - nearly a quarter of the region's population - it's a gap that needs to be filled.

"If you were in your 50s of 60s 10 years ago, it wasn't such a big deal that you didn't have basic online skills. Now it's huge," says Graham.

"The majority of jobs are advertised online, and nearly all require basic online skills. For those in their 50s, it really does affect their employment prospects."

Go ON UK is a charity with a big aim. It wants to ensure that everyone and every organisation - from small business to large corporations and charities - is able to enjoy the social, economic and cultural benefits of the internet and in so doing, supercharge the UK economy and substantially improve the well-being of the country.

Founded by Martha Lane Fox, who created Lastminute.com, Go ON UK wants to make us the most digitallyskilled nation in the world. Working with partner organisations, from big corporate entities such as Lloyds Banking Group, EE, Argos, TalkTalk and the Post Office, to local authorities and individuals, they have set a target of a 25% uplift in the region's basic online skills base in the first year.

"Lessons learned suggest that strong partnerships are the key," says Graham.

"We ran a similar campaign in Liverpool, 'Go ON it's Liverpool'. All the councillors said 'this is important to us: for economic I want sign up to regeneration, social issues, we should buddy up across the council and with our private sector partners, and do something about this'.

charter for reasons -benefit business Graham Walker "Go ON it's Liverpool brought together these councillors, and 80 local partners and together they got 43,000 people online in 18 months - a 55% reduction. It proves to us that a peer-to-peer approach works. That's what we're going to try to do on a much bigger scale in the North East."

The region's local authorities are signing up to the Digital Skills Charter. The pledge is for everyone to have basic online skills to enjoy the full benefits of the web; that everyone deserves world-class digital services that meet their needs and are useable by all; that communities that don't yet have the skills to fully enjoy to the benefits of the internet should not be left behind; and that every organisation - public, private and voluntary - has a role to play in building the UK's digital capability.

the good "I want people to sign up to the charter for good reasons - to benefit their business," says Graham. "They often sign up initially as some sort of corporate social responsibility, but then the penny drops that actually there's a huge change going on in their business that this helps as well."

Online business accounts for around 8% of GDP - around PS100bn a year, but there are around onethird of small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) with no online presence.

Graham adds: "Only a third can market and sell goods online and that means they're missing out. The way most people look for a service is through referral, asking friends 'do you know a good plumber?', the next way is to go online on trade sites - or on something like Twitter.

"It's just plain wrong to say 'oh, I'm a plumber, I don't need to go online'. Even if you're really small, using things like Facebook, or Twitter, can make a huge difference, and if you sell things, make sure people can pay online, such as with PayPal. …