Brown announces £300m plan to bridge the digital divide

23 Sep 2008 View Comments
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Prime minister Gordon Brown
Brown: We will fund one million households to get online

Prime minister Gordon Brown has launched a £300m bid to close the digital divide by supplying computer equipment, broadband connections and technical advice to households that cannot afford them.

Brown announced plans for a new one-off educational technical allowance worth up to £700 for England's one million poorest families in his keynote speech to Labour's party conference in Manchester.

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The plan is for local authorities to supply vouchers whose value will depend on families' means, partly based on lists of children in receipt of free school meals.

The move comes after concern that deprived children are losing out because they do not have access to computers, and their parents are unable to receive online or email communications from schools.

Political advisers said that Brown believes it is clearly unfair for children to be disadvantaged by lack of a home computer, and was influenced by the fact that 90 per cent of jobcentre advertisements now require some computer experience.

The programme will be piloted in two local authority areas later this year and rolled out across England in 2010 and 2011, at around the time the next general election must be held.

It will be up to devolved authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland whether to follow suit without funding from the UK government.

"To ensure we are prepared for times to come the government will fund one million more households to get online, enabling parents to link with teachers at their children's schools and help young people with their homework and coursework," Brown told delegates.

Aides said that other government action is being targeted on the one per cent of homes unable to get broadband.

The move is an expansion of plans announced by schools minister Jim Knight in January this year to spend £30m on broadband access and home PCs for children of low-income families.

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