The announcement was part of the UK Online strategy unveiled by the Prime Minister. He said its three goals were to provide universal access to the Internet, make all government services available on-line and ensure Britain is the best place in the world for e-commerce.
The first 616 centres announced this week will provide access to the Internet and offer training to the 40 per cent of adults who still feel uncomfortable using computers. Some will be run by colleges, including Northumberland, City of Bristol and Hendon, and most will be open by next February. Further centres will be announced then and next September. Britain's 4,300 public libraries will also be linked to the Internet by the end of 2002.
Michael Wills, the learning and technology minister, said: "Together with the University for Industry's learndirect, UK on-line centres will give many their first chance to try new technologies and then move on to exciting on-line courses, from basic skills to vocational courses, opening up a new world of work."
Tony Blair added that every adult will be able to clim an 80 per cent discount on computer literacy courses, reducing the price of a pound;200 course to just pound;40. The unemployed are eligible for about pound;4,000 worth of free IT training.
He reiterated the Government's commitment to making all its services available on-line by 2005. One-third of services are already on-line and all will be accessible later this year at the ukonline.gov.uk website.
The Department for Education and Employment has already announced plans to publish job vacancies on the Internet and in kiosks at job centres.
However, the Government's plans received a setback last week when Alex Allan, the first "e-
envoy", announced his resignation for personal reasons, leaving no one in charge of the overall vision. An open competition to find his successor will be held in the next few weeks.
Mr Allan's annual report, also released this week, indicates that 25 per cent of households now have Internet access, almost double 1999's figure, and that one-third of the population is on-line at work or home. As well, it stated that Britain now has the cheapest off-peak Net access in the world, with peak access costing below the OECD average. UK Online: www.ukonline.gov.uk