Rural Digital Community Prize
11 December 2001

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BIDDING TO BECOME SCOTLAND"S RURAL DIGITAL COMMUNITY

The Seaboard Villages and Cromarty have been chosen to represent the Highlands in a Scotland-wide competition, which has a prize valued at 1,750,000. 

They are bidding to become Scotland's rural digital community and an award of 2,000 personal computers, with associated printers, and one years free internet access, as well as a gateway web site for the community.

The competition is being funded by the Scottish Executive, who intend to name a short-list of six communities by March, next year. They will also be selecting an urban digital community.

Councillor David Alston, Chairman of the Councils Community Planning and Renewing Democracy Select Committee, said the Seaboard Villages and Cromarty had been chosen because they had been identified as suffering high unemployment, not least as a result of the downturn in oil fabrication activity.  A combination of a declining and ageing population, greater distances from services and inadequate public transport presented difficulties in maintaining and securing services and jobs.

He said the areas were a priority for regeneration initiatives to combat the rural disadvantage and decline and the project was an ideal way of boosting the fortunes of the communities.

The project would be managed by the Council but led by two local multi-agency and community partnerships. While funding from the Executive would only be available for one year, it would be intended to maintain support for the project for at least two and possibly three years.

He said: "The aim of the competition is to ensure that disadvantaged communities can access information communications technology and have the skills and confidence to use it. 1.75 million has been set aside for each winning digital community. This is a tremendous prize and provides a real incentive to win.

"We will be competing with many other parts of Scotland but the decision to enter the competition with this bid shows The Highland Councils commitment to promoting digital technology in the Highlands. The bid has been targeted at areas with high unemployment, poor transport links and other difficulties that make them fragile communities. The potential benefits are enormous."

If the council is successful in the first stage of the competition, it will be required to prepare a full business plan to justify its bid. Councillor Alston added: "It will be important to secure real community ownership of the content of the business plan and the fullest possible consultation with local people."

The objectives of the project are to: -

*Significantly increase access to ICT technologies and learning resources;

*Reduce the barriers of using ICT technologies, including costs, provision of
technical know-how and lack of awareness of the benefits of technology;

*Increase people"s skill levels in the use of ICT and its application for
social, economic and environmental benefits;

*Change attitudes to ICT, focusing in particular on the capacity of young
people to act as key drivers for change;

*Become a centre of excellence for the application of ICT technologies for
community benefit, particularly to support e-democracy services;

*Build upon the community's use of the Internet as a medium for shopping,
entertainment, information and learning.