Patricia Keating, Executive Director of Tech Manchester, on the initiative which launched last week

The Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint was launched last week in a bold statement to #DoDigitalDifferently.

Elise Wilson, GMCA lead for the digital portfolio and leader of Stockport Council, shared the blueprint’s vision to place people at heart of the digital ambition at the launch event at Etc Venues on Portland Street.

A panel on empowering people then looked at digital school readiness, digital inclusion, addressing loneliness and isolation, digital skills and social mobility.

Becky Bibby, assistant director of early help and school readiness for Salford Council, shared inspirational news about the digital transformation going on in early learning.

However the highlight was the heartwarming stories from community leaders – including Ryan McMurdo of StartPoint in Stockport; Kirsty Devlin, head of Recode UK; and Bernadette Elder, CEO of Inspiring Communities Together – on the impact their programmes are having on getting the unemployed into work and on challenging isolation and loneliness by supporting older people’s digital learning.

A second panel heard from John Sibbald, a specialist in digital education, who said that only half of the schools in Greater Manchester are offering computer science – and worringly the syllabus hasn’t changed much since he taught it many years ago.

Whilst GM has the opportunity to change the agenda for tech education schools, we ‘aren’t there yet’. Beckie Taylor, co-founder of Tech Returners, challenged the concept of the skills gap and highlighted the scale of women on career breaks who have an appetite to return or enter the tech industry.

She said they could satisfy that demand but, without flexibility from employers, this barrier would continue to exist.

GM Metro Mayor Andy Burnham then reminded attendees that Manchester is the biggest digital cluster outside London with an ecosystem worth £5 billion and growing fast – and of our shared ambition to become a top five European digital city and the ‘home of the digital citizen’.

He said this would be achieved by Manchester’s strength in ‘collaboration, co-operation and solidarity’.

He touched on the Greater Manchester Apprenticeship Company (GMAC), a clearing system to rival the university UCAS system and Early Years digitisation. The goal is to share data better to improve public sector systems for the citizens of GM.

A rousing video contribution from Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the internet and now, delivered the message that #DoingDigitalDifferently can transform health outcomes here and across the globe.

Berners-Lee reminded us that his parents met in Manchester and his mother’s part in programming the first commercial computer in Ferranti, Hollinsworth back in 1951.

He then touched upon the work he is doing with the city – and reminded us how Manchester could be at the heart of global digital transformation once again.