09 Jun Advancing the Digital Transformation of Local Authorities
In today’s world, digitalisation has become an essential need, rather than a simple afterthought or a superficial marketing tool . Connectivity has become a fundamental necessity for society, much like how the Industrial Revolution once required raw materials and labour to develop. And the digitalisation of public authorities – particularly local and rural authorities – is a gap that needs to be prioritised. The COVID-19 crisis starkly exposed the shortcomings in this area and the commitment to help in the digitalisation of our rural communities, although not exclusively, is firm across the political spectrum.
European funding for digitalisation
But not all local government bodies have the same needs, nor are they at the same point on their journeys towards full digitalisation and connectivity. What does apply in all cases is the need for investment. A significant injection of capital is needed. The European Union is well aware that the same scenario is playing out in all member states, which is why it launched the NextGeneration EU Fund after the pandemic, consisting of more than €800 billion “to create a greener, more digital and more resilient Europe”.
Of this total figure, a substantial portion – €250 billion – will be spent exclusively on digitalisation, with the aim of providing 80% of the European population with basic digital skills by 2030. So how does this translate in Spain? Into Spain’s National Digital Skills Plan, which aims to digitally train every citizen and close the digital gap.
Digitalisation and connectivity of local authorities is vital
Making progress in public digitalisation, as mentioned, must fully involve local authorities and local governments in the process, including municipalities, councils, schools, medical centres, as well as neighbourhood and community organisations, for example. Significant gaps remain in this respect for a number of reasons. Lack of a shared digital protocol, insufficient digital literacy among civil servants, incompatibilities and a lack of standardisation in the tools used, as well as deficiencies in connectivity infrastructure, are just some of them.
Recently, politicians in Spain’s Senate argued that part of the aforementioned resources from the European Union should be allocated to modernise municipalities. As mentioned in a Senate session, it is important that European funding for digitalisation reaches all parts of rural Spain with the greatest agility, to effectively reduce the digital divide and serve the most vulnerable populations as a priority”.
€90 million to digitalise rural Spain
In this spirit, the Spanish government has earmarked €90 million to boost digital skills in rural Spain, in what has become known as the Digital Rural Challenge Plan . This initiative was unveiled by the Vice‑President and Minister of the Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenges, Teresa Ribera, at the beginning of the year.
Although significant efforts are being made to expand wireless coverage and establish connectivity in rural areas through the appropriate infrastructure, Ribera added that “it is not enough to simply expand coverage, we must also be developing digital skills”. That’s why the Digital Rural Challenge Plan is based around three main strategic areas of focus:
- Access to digital technology
- Training in digital skills
- Access to digital tools in rural areas
As such, the Spanish Government aims to use this money to fund programmes that will purchase new tablet devices, mobile phones and computers for those living in rural parts of the country, as well as training initiatives designed to educate people on how to use these resources, training in programming and data analysis, as well as enhancing the dynamics around digitalisation in rural areas, including e‑commerce and remote working. The plan also includes an advice and support component for those who need it.