The government has launched a Pounds 6.5 million scheme to introduce 49 high-tech learning environments in specialist centres across the United Kingdom that provide accommodation for the homeless.
The initiative, funded through the Department for Education and Employment, came in the same week that a World Internet Forum survey revealed growing political disillusion with the government's online strategy.
The government is investing Pounds 252 million of capital funding and Pounds 77.5 million from the New Opportunities Fund in community learning, which involves the development of 6,000 learning centres by 2002 in England's inner cities. The high-tech homeless project, a partnership between e-business services company ICL and the Foyer Federation, forms the first phase of the UK online initiative.
Foyers provide "accommodation with opportunity" for homeless young people. The concept originated in France. The first UK schemes were opened in 1992 and have so far helped about 25,000 people. There are 100 foyers in operation with more in development.
ICL will provide the foyer learning centres with essential technologies, including internet and intranet access, email, digital music creation and applications for people using English as a second language. The communications company ntl will provide the telecommunications infrastructure.
A government spokesman said homeless people would be able to learn information and computer technology skills that would offer them a route back into learning and employment. The target is for 40,000 more users to benefit from the foyer learning centres in the first three years. They will be opened early next year.
A Mori survey for the World Internet Forum has found that MPs' faith in the government's ability to meet its internet goals has declined significantly in the past six months.
The survey found only 61 per cent of 101 MPs questioned agreed that the government's goal of having 100 per cent of its services available online by 2005 was achievable. This represents a drop of 13 per cent since MPs were asked the question in January.
The divide between the views of Labour and Conservative MPs is marked. At the beginning of the year, the figure was 79 per cent for Labour and 63 per cent for Conservatives. By summer, these figures fell by 10 per cent for Labour and 25 per cent for Conservatives.
The survey also found that 89 per cent of Labour MPs and 72 per cent of Conservative MPs are concerned that citizens who do not have access to the internet will be at a disadvantage.
Robert Blaney, chief executive officer of the WIF, said of UK online: "We support wholeheartedly the aims of all governments to provide the best environment for e-commerce to flourish. However, viewing UK online, we can find no explanations as to how these goals are going to be achieved, or indeed how these were decided upon at all by the UK government."
The WIF is in London from November 13-15.