Over the next few months, expect a barrage of publicity about the launch of Salford City Council's My City Salford websites.
My City Salford is the Council's 'digital community hub', contracted to The Landing based at MediaCityUK, at a development cost of £180,000; while another website, My City Health, is set to launch next year at a further cost of £118,000, again contracted to The Landing, a private company owned by Salford Council.
The websites, a Council report states, "will provide an online tool for communities to share information; for organisations to provide information on services and to push key messages around behaviour change; and for business to advertise services".
Buzz words are flowing about the site...a "21st century digital neighbourhood"...a "groundbreaking citizen-centric project"...but behind the hype, a Council report adds that it's about "self help"..."supports communities to do more for themselves... without the need to contact public services".
A spin-off from what is called the Transformation Programme, which aims to make everyone do everything online, saw Salford Council cut 14 jobs in Regulatory Services this month, while handing pay cuts of over £6,000 to some staff (see here and see here).*
The My City Health website will be a Salford prototype for a Greater Manchester 'Wellness Hub' and is described as "testing innovative service delivery models for incentivising and supporting lifestyle behaviour change" Ė or Do-It-Yourself health.
The My City Health prototype site (click here) features giving up smoking, eating healthier, drinking less and getting fit, while the My City Salford site promises "all the latest news, events and activities in your area...Share your skills and services, or sell your unwanted items to someone nearby."
The ethics of yet another Salford Council controlled media platform are open to question, following the controversy a few years ago over its magazine, LIFE, and other council publications which the Government slammed as "political propaganda" and "damaging local democracy and an independent, free press" (see here).
The Council states that My City Salford will be different... "Previous 'what's on' or local events portals have been very much one-way communication platforms, with information and content provided by the sponsoring organisation.
"What's different is our vision is that over-time the Hub will become resident owned and driven" it adds "The Hub will also be able to interact with ours, and partners, customer systems Ė ensuring a genuinely bespoke and tailored customer experience."
This remains to be seen Ė will residents be allowed to advertise demonstrations against the Council and its 'partners' on the platform? Will residents be allowed to criticise Council policy? Will there be censorship, apart from the obvious block on racist, libellous content? Who will be moderating the sites?
Meanwhile, there's the problem that over 20% of Salford's adult population, or 30,000 people, are digitally excluded (see here). The Council has handed £180,000 to the Good Things Foundation and expects 7,800 people to be online by the end of the contract.
A Council report states that PwC, its cuts consultants, have estimated 'savings' of £1.64million 'once all 7,800 residents have been upskilled'. Yet more people are becoming 'digitally excluded' because, through low wages and pay caps, they are cancelling broadband at home as they just can't afford it.
Most of the funding for all this is coming through Greater Manchester's 'Transformation Fund', as part of the Digital Strategy of GM Mayor, Andy Burnham, who told the Salford Star recently:
"There's talk about smart cities, cities that use digital technology to make themselves better and I want here to be the smartest of all where we use technology not just to build our industrial base but also to make society more equal and fairer and everybody to play their part" (see interview Ė click here )
Meanwhile, Salford Council is throwing money at The Landing, a digital 'incubation' centre. Last year, The Landing was handed £192,000, while the Council recently signed an agreement to support it for a further ten years. All financial details of the deal have been kept secret.
The Landing is in the space at Media City that was previously earmarked as an independent community centre to 'Make Media'. That project was cut before MediaCityUK even opened.
The aim of Make Media was to allow the community open access to state-of-the-art equipment to make their own independent films, radio and websites. All that is now well off the radar as 'experts' are brought in at huge cost, with the community outside, its nose pressed against a virtual window looking passively in. Whether My City Salford will alter this remains to be seen...
To register to test out My City Salford - click here
* See also previous Salford Star article - Salford Council to axe 120 jobs as it seeks to replace humans with £3million IT system - click here