Young Scots grow webwise

Young people, switched on to the web and new ways of communicating with one another, have flooded the new interactive Young Scot "portal" in their search for information after it was launched in mid-May by Jack McConnell, the First Minister.

In a little over two months, young people have made 2.3 million "hits" on the pages of the high-tech website that has been personally supported by Bill Gates, the head of Microsoft, and other major ICT firms such as BT Scotland and Fujitsu. Thousands are in touch daily, checking information on anything from health to careers and taking part in online debates and competitions.

Its immediate success has persuaded ministers and all 32 local authorities to support a pound;7.2 million youth information initiative that will cover the country over the next three years, making it the largest ever project of its kind in Scotland. It will be officially sanctioned next month under the banner of Dialogue Youth.

Young Scot, the national youth information agency, has been publishing booklets for 21 years, including a quarterly magazine through the Daily Record for the past six years, but is now poised for a significant breakthrough under Mr McConnell's second tranche of cash for modernising government.

In the past two years, packaged funds from the Scottish Executive, local authorities, national agencies and private firms have run to more than pound;2.5 million, helping to establish the portal and four pilot projects in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Angus and Argyll and Bute which included teams of young people in digging out information.

Ministers and council leaders believe that the direct two-way communication with young people through the online services, available locally and nationally, is exactly what they have been looking for in their new governance agenda. Nicol Stephen, the Deputy Education Minister, has already taken part in the national education debate online involving young people.

Authorities, such as Glasgow, are already running cashless school meals systems through Young Scot smart cards and others are interested. The city also offers free swimming and access to its libraries through the same card.

By 2004, all local authorities will have similar services, including a youth information unit to provide local information, business discounts for the Young Scot cardholders, and ways of interacting with young people.

By then, 400,000 young people - mostly of secondary age - will be signed up for the Young Scot package of smarter cards, personalised to the services in their local area. Teachers will be able to tap into the portal to support personal and social education sessions.

Marc Liddle, Young Scot chief executive, believes the Scottish Parliament has made the key difference to the youth information campaign with ministers ready to run with initiatives that dovetail with their agendas.

"We are clear about our role. We are a conduit between young people and people who make decisions about services and we are helping to address the democratic deficit. It's a two-way conduit and we do not claim to be a service provider. It means we can partner with anyone," he said.

The organisation became an independent charity three years ago, separating from the now defunct Community Learning Scotland, and has since broadened its contacts across central and local government.

On the European front, pioneering Scottish work in youth information has spawned developments in 38 countries with more than four million young people linked by interchangeable discount cards.

WHAT THE NEW PORTAL OFFERS

* Seventeen "channels" linking to 2,000 pages of information, news and features targeted at young people. Includes local news provided by young people, votes of the day, games and reviews. Agencies involved include the Health Education Board for Scotland and Sport-scotland.

* Ur'Say, an interactive discussion forum, supported by Napier University and the Scottish Youth Parliament, offers the existing 220,000 members a platformto express views.

* The portal is at www.youngscot.org

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