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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 March 2007, 17:37 GMT
'Revolutionary' IT plan for area
Dudley Castle
It is hoped that 160,000 jobs will have been created by 2033
Microsoft is planning to open four specialist learning academies in the Black Country as part of a scheme to train 35,000 people.

The government is backing the multi-million pound strategy and officials said the project will have an impact on the area's future.

Under the plans, people will also be trained at 130 learning centres.

Akhtar Badshah, a Microsoft director, toured the area in a helicopter before meeting business and community leaders.

There are exciting times ahead for the Black Country
Akhtar Badshah

Over the next three years, Microsoft will contribute at least 14m to the region, and offer access to programmes, its global network and support and advice.

The academies will be set up in each of the four local authority areas, with 35 learning centres up and running in 2008, growing to 130 by 2010.

The investment is part of a 30-year strategy for the area which has been prepared by the Black Country Consortium (BCC) and the West Midlands Regional Assembly.

During this time, the BCC hopes that 160,000 jobs will be created.

'Change people's lives'

About one million people live in the Black Country, which is seen as a deprived area, with around one third of the population living in "needy neighbourhoods", according to the regeneration group.

Mr Badshah said: "We see our partnership with BCC as revolutionary. There are exciting times ahead for the Black Country.

"At Microsoft we believe that access to technology is only part of the answer.

"It is equally critical to provide IT skills training, tools and guidance to help people discover what technology can do for them, and what they can do with technology."

Sarah Middleton, chief executive of the BCC said they now had the power to "change peoples' lives" and help those who missed out on education and training, ethnic communities and older learners.

"We'll also be tackling the productivity gap by encouraging enterprise and business formation, supporting our bid to create 900 new business start-ups every year," she said.

The plans are Microsoft's biggest UK project

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