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The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"The government says it will close this digital divide"
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Tuesday, 28 March, 2000, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK
Britain digitally divided say ministers
More than 1bn is being invested in school technology
An initiative designed to close the gap between technology haves and have-nots and provide an annual snapshot of e-Britain has been unveiled by the UK Government.

The report, entitled Closing the Digital Divide, suggests people in all deprived urban areas should have access to computers, the internet, e-mail and other emerging information and communication technologies.

It recommends setting up internet points in locations where people feel at ease, including pubs, community centres, post offices and bus and train stations.

Further suggestions include online job clubs and the provision of technology to help people with transport difficulties do their shopping and make use of government services and healthcare.

'Major impact'

Small Business and E-Commerce Minister Patricia Hewitt and Learning and Technology Minister Michael Wills are to launch the report on Tuesday.

Mr Wills said: "We are investing more than 1bn in schools' technology up to 2002 and this is already having a major impact - increasing schools internet access and improving teacher training.

"A 252 million initiative is under way to create 1,000 new technology training centes in local neighbourhoods with centres based in sports clubs, pubs, schools, houses and churches.

"In May we will be giving every jobseeker a voucher for free computer training - worth about 400 each. This report will help ensure that we build on this work to build a modern socially inclusive e-Britain."

Skill shortage

The report from the government's social exclusion unit also says experts and mentors from the local community should be on hand to provide extra training and support.

Its findings were based on research suggesting that while 90% of newly-created jobs require information technology skills, 52% of people in low income groups have no experience of using computers.

Many of its recommendations are being considered as part of the current government spending review and fall in line with Prime Minister Tony Blair's aim to get everyone in the UK online within five years.

Ms Hewitt added: "We must close the digital divide so everyone can reap the benefits of living in an e-nation."

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See also:

02 Nov 99 | Education
50m boost for online learning
03 Nov 99 | Education
Performance pay for school computers
09 Nov 99 | Education
Cyber pub appeals to students
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