Greater Manchester celebrates digital milestones

The Greater Manchester Digital team and wider sector had an incredible start to the year in terms of our digital and tech ambitions, when we launched our Digital Blueprint, outlining our ambition to be a world class digital city region 

2020 has been a strange year, it has brought with it a lot of highs and a lot of lows for our digital sector but despite all the challenges it has driven digital transformation at a scale and pace we’ve not seen before - in areas like healthcare, supporting vulnerable people and new ways of working.

There have been challenges – we know some parts of the digital sector has been hit hard. But we’re also seeing the tech sector thrive in 2020, with some areas blossoming like e-commerce, digital healthcare and cyber security around GCHQ’s new base.

This pandemic has highlighted the digital divide across the UK but it has also seen the digital industry emerge as a reliable sector for career prospects, between June and August 2020 there was a 36% increase in job vacancies in the digital sector, second only to health care vacancies.

One thing is for sure, 2020 has been a busy year for the Greater Manchester digital sector. It has been a year of rapid transformation, development and innovation and you can read more about this year’s milestones and achievements in the year review story below.

Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint

In February 2020, we launched the new Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint, which sets out a three-year approach to meeting our ambitions for our city-region, and will be reviewed regularly in line with the pace of digital change.

The Blueprint identifies five digital priorities, the priorities have been co-designed and developed with the input of key stakeholders and are supported by pan-Greater Manchester public sector projects. 

Our plan connects the wealth of digital change that’s going on, and will help us reach a shared ambition that underpins and enables both the Local Industrial Strategyand the Greater Manchester Strategy

"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." Cllr Sean Fielding

A new lead

In 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 at the time, to find out more about his new role. You can read our full interview with Cllr Fielding.

Digital City Festival 2020

We joined forces with MIDAS to participate in the inaugural Digital City Festival 2020.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester opened the Digital City Festival at the start of the week, we hosted two panel sessions – 1) Greater Manchester: becoming a cyber super hub and 2) AI and Data: the driver of zero carbon

Our then GMCA Lead for Digital, Cllr Elise Wilson spoke at a reception for Digital Leaders and we were involved in shortlisting and attended the Digital City Awards.

It was a fantastic week of events to be a part of, showcasing the amazing work of the Greater Manchester digital sector and beyond and we are looking forward to being a part of next year's Digital City Festival.

Greater Manchester Digital Platform progresses

The Greater Manchester Digital Platform is an advanced tool itself that can be communicated as an exemplar of good practice in Greater Manchester. The Platform was created to ensure that professionals supporting residents have the right information, at the right time and in the right way. 

The Digital Platform provides the infrastructure that can be rapidly adopted in other priority areas to drive improvements in the health and wealth of Greater Manchester’s 2.8m citizens, whether this is in health, care or the wider public sector.  We’re already looking at how it can be applied in Victim Support, Homelessness and other important areas of health.

"The Greater Manchester Digital Platform has been developed to help everyone in Greater Manchester, making sure that professionals supporting our people have the right information, at the right time and in the right way. The platform will be integral in driving improvements for our citizens, whether this is in health, care or the wider public sector.” Councillor Sean Fielding, GMCA Lead for Employment, SKills and Digital

Secured world class digital infrastructure

In March, we announced we had secured world-class digital infrastructure through the biggest government full-fibre investment in the UK. Since then the GMCA  appointed Virgin Media Business to deliver up to 2,700km of new fibre optic broadband infrastructure across the region. The £23.8m Local Full Fibre Networks Programme will connect more than 1,500 public sites across the city-region, with additional local authority investments

This is the UK’s largest Local Full Fibre Networks Programme. Full fibre enables much faster download and upload speeds and will underpin a wide range of digital transformation and smart city projects. For example, for a community centre, it would enable them to offer digital skills courses; for schools it would provide faster and more reliable online activities.

Greater Cyber ambitions progressed

The Greater Manchester Cyber Security Advisory Group reflects the cyber security capabilities of Greater Manchester and drives forward inclusive economic growth for the city-region and the North. The group supports our ambition to establish Greater Manchester as UK and European centre for cyber and digital ethics, trust and security.

The group will provide strategic oversight and a force for inclusive economic growth, taking an ecosystem approach to building that capability and economic resilience.

2020 saw the third anniversay of the group, with some highlights from the network being over 75 SME's supported with their cyber security ambitions via the Greater Manchester Cyber Foundry, the group supported the development of a cyber talent programme and the launch of the Greater Manchester AI Foundry.

New Digital Inclusion Taskforce launched to tackle digital divide across Greater Manchester

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority is gathering senior leaders, industry, community groups and local government to drive ambitions to be 100% digitally-enabled city-region with the formation of a new Digital Inclusion Taskforce. 

Recent analysis from the University of Liverpool and the Good Things Foundation, suggests as many as 1.2 million people across Greater Manchester could be excluded in some way from the opportunities that digital brings. Over 700,000 people in Greater Manchester are only using the internet in a narrow or limited way and a further 450,000 classified as 'non-users.' 

The Greater Manchester Digital Inclusion Taskforce, which is due to meet for the first-time next week, aims to address the barriers of digital exclusion and the digital divide, in a co-ordinated and focussed way, informed by local needs and sharing learning, resource and expertise. 

The taskforce is part of our Digital Inclusion Agenda for Change – launched at our Digital Leaders Event in October 2020. Digital inclusion is an agenda we have been prioritising for some time, with the COVID-19 pandemic only widening the challenge.

Underrepresented groups set to benefit from digital workforce funding 

During 2020 we delivered two rounds of the Fast Track Digital Workforce Fundwith 23 projects from across Greater Manchester and Lancashire receiving funding to deliver digital skills training for residents. 

The fund, which was developed to address locally identified digital skills gaps, is a joint venture between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and Lancashire Digital Skills Partnership (LDSP). The Fund also received an exciting extension through the Department for Education Digital Bootcamps to maximise on this work, giving residents the opportunity to build up their digital skills and fast-track to an interview with a local employer. 

The £3 million fund, which is the first of its kind in the UK, was set up to support residents with accessible routes into digital employment, specifically targeting disadvantaged groups and those underrepresented to help them get into digital roles. 

The successful projects included a Data Engineering Bootcamp, delivered by Generation to help support underrepresented groups facing barriers to employment secure a dream role in data, one of the fastest growing areas of tech. Tech Manchester’s Tech Equity programme also received funding to upskill unemployed women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds and provide a pathway for them to move into junior network engineer roles. 

A response to COVID-19

Image of two children

Giving children the best start in life through digital

During 2020 we were pleased to launch the new Early Years Application across Bury and Rochdale.

The Early Years digitisation project is a huge step forward for our city-region and will hugely boost our aim of giving children in Greater Manchester the best possible start in life. We started by developing an ‘Early Years’ app that digitises the paper-based assessments currently used to review a child’s development up to the age of 2.5 years.

The Early Years App provides parents and carers of children across Greater Manchester with a digital application to complete assessments that are currently paper-based and ensures that parents and carers have access to both completed assessments and other supporting information completed by the professional and gives the user much more control over their own data.

Developed by GMCA, Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership, frontline NHS colleagues and developers Objectivity, ANS Group, and Shaping Cloud (the latter two being Greater Manchester based) the app provides support digitally and during the COVID-19 pandemic, reduced the need for physical appointments.

The Early Years Application is hosted on Greater Manchester’s Digital Platform.

Digital kit 'bundles' reach digitally excluded across the region

Earlier this year, in response to the closure of schools across the country, Greater Manchester Combined Authority invested in over 500 kit bundles to be made available to disadvantaged and digitally excluded pupils, working closely with schools and colleges to identify those in most need.  

The investment, which also saw further funding received from Virgin Media Business and ANS Group, was part of a new Greater Manchester Technology Fund aiming 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.

Andy Potts, Assistant Principal at The Hathershaw College said “Digital exclusion is always a consideration of ours, we need to ensure that pupils with limited or no access to a laptop or internet are not disadvantaged and that their ability to learn is not negatively impacted. In our school, the Greater Manchester Technology Fund has been an overwhelming success and I would like to say a huge thank you- it has been a wonderful opportunity at a time of need for some of our most disadvantaged pupils”.  

A ‘digital kit bundle’ included a laptop and the required tools to get online and after rapidly launching the fund, the combined authority were able to work closely with schools and procurement partners to get around 600 kit bundles delivered to schools within weeks of launch. 


New app launched to coordinate support for most vulnerable in Greater Manchester

Communities in Greater Manchester are now benefitting from a new app set up to help match volunteers with vulnerable people in need of support during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Community Hub Application which is now being used in Bury and Rochdale, provides a platform that all parties involved in logging, assigning and volunteering can access, helping to coordinate contact between centres, Hub Managers and volunteers. The application also helps to collect the required information to match appropriate support to citizens and their needs.

The app was developed in response to the ongoing need for volunteers to support our most vulnerable citizens in essential tasks including food shopping and collecting medicines. 

The app is also another example of how the Greater Manchester Digital Platform can be utilised to make the most of the infrastructure that can be rapidly adopted in other priority areas to drive improvements in the health and wealth of Greater Manchester’s 2.8m citizens.

Rapid ICT response

MS Teams rollout

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and ahead of any anticipated work from home instructions, our ICT team took the decision to undertake a tactical rollout of MS Teams to enable all GMCA staff to have the option and capability to work from home without disruption. This proved a timely decision as shortly after deployment, we were indeed instructed to work from home and the deployment of MS Teams meant that our staff were able to continue their work effectively while working from home. While working from home may have been a step change in the way most of us worked previously, the take-up and usage of MS Teams has been phenomenal and usage continues to grow as MS Teams becomes the ‘go to’ tool for day to day activities across the GMCA.

Hardware issue for homeworking

As the instruction to work from home was issued, ICT immediately initiated a project to issue ICT hardware such as monitors, keyboards, mice and laptop risers to staff to provide a more effective, safe and comfortable home work environment that supported daily use on a longer term basis and therefore removed the need for staff to struggle using just a laptop device. This proved hugely successful and has enabled staff to work safely and effectively from home where required.

Enhanced connectivity for homeworking

As part of the home working solutions deployed in response to the COVD-19 pandemic, ICT rolled out software solutions which provided effective and resilient connectivity for all users which enabled all GMCA home workers to be able log into their corporate devices from home, be on the network as though in the office and for those users to have continued connectivity should there be a failure of one of the solutions. This provided the capability for users to access all their network files and applications whilst at home and with the assurance that there would be no loss in that service.


Throughout October, organisations were invited to take part in Digitober, a month focused on bringing together businesses and people from across Greater Manchester to combat digital exclusion and close the digital divide. This campaign month came in response to the widened levels of digital exclusion the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted.

Greater Manchester has seen rapid digital transformation across all business sectors, as organisations have been forced to innovate and adapt their businesses to switch to online. This digital transformation has left some residents and businesses at a disadvantage, such as older people, people living with a disability and people from low-income households. It is this inequity that Digitober focused on, reaffirming GMCA’s commitment to a digital city region where no one is left behind.

Greater Manchester Digital Drive - provides businesses with access to off the shelf tools to help get them onlineGreater Manchester businesses offered free support to build online presence as part of a new scheme

We partnered with GC Business Growth Hub and THG Ingenuity, the Technology Services division of Manchester-based THG, a global technology platform specialising in taking brands direct-to-consumers, to launch Greater Manchester Digital Drive, an initiative which provides businesses with free access to “off the shelf” tools to help them get online.

Lou Cordwell, Co-chair of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership, said "Now more than ever, Greater Manchester’s small and independent businesses need a strong online presence to reach their markets. Restrictions have been necessary to slow the pandemic, but the resulting decline in footfall has seen many businesses with physical locations lose out on customers. Many don’t have the skills or budget to adapt quickly. Digital enablement is a key pillar of both our Local Industrial Strategy and our campaign to Build Back Better. This latest initiative is therefore a welcome one and serves as another great example of how public and private sectors collaborate in Greater Manchester.”

Our Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint sets out our digital priorities, which are now clearly focused on delivering benefits that help our city-regions people lead healthier and happier lives. Each of our priorities – co-designed and developed with the input of key stakeholders - are supported by pan - Greater Manchester public sector projects. 

Article Published: 17/12/2020 09:00 AM