New Start Magazine today makes "Funding bubble bursts for internet skills centres" its lead story, highlighting the fact that Lottery funds for UK online centres are coming to an end. Austin Macauley reports:
"Hundreds of centres helping people in deprived communities to develop internet skills are facing an uphill fight for survival as their funding runs out.
"UK online centres were launched by the government in 2000 to help give everyone access to the internet. But with the initial £100m lottery funding running out, there is now no dedicated fund for the 6,000 centres.
"Those based in colleges, libraries and other venues are expected to secure money from their host organisations, but the future of centres run by community and voluntary groups is less certain."
Update from On the Nail, the mailing list for centres January 23
UK online centres alive and kicking
Following media reports last week about the disbanding of UK online for business a number of UK online centres have expressed concern. Ufi would like to stress to those operating UK online centres that the UK online centre network managed by Ufi and funded by the DfES is unaffected by this announcement.
UK online for business is a distinct offer for SMEs. UK online centres aim, by contrast, is to attract individuals who wish to learn about the internet and use government and other services online. The various press articles make reference to the UK online brand being axed. This reference is specific to UK online for business. In light of these impending changes Ufi has been discussing the future branding strategy with the DfES, DCMS and the Office of the e-Envoy over a period of months and for the foreseeable future it has been decided that UK online centres will continue to operate under the UK online centres brand. Any change to this position will of course be communicated to all UK online centres at the earliest opportunity.
Ufi is committed to the UK online centre network and believes that is has an important role to play helping citizens in England access and use new information and communications technologies. With a network of around 6,000 centres, helping an estimated 500,000 people a year, it will continue with its objective to increase internet access and raise IT skill levels.
I wrote about centre funding problems here, reporting that providing access to e-government is one (not very compelling) suggestion being floated for centres... and gave some links to support services for centres. I think New Start - which covers physical and economic regeneration as well as community development - has picked up on centre problems because some of the community-based centres are run by regeneration organisations like Development Trusts. The question in my mind is whether separate centres will make much sense in a few years, or whether they will be integrated into the day-to-day work and services of community organisations currently running them. On that front, see also Nonprofit tech centres reach more 'excluded' users.