Missing PCs add to digital divide woes

Residents of estate in Liverpool have found an innovative use for the PCs they have been given by the education department -- selling them on the black market

Recycled computers given free to a deprived Liverpool community as part of a £10m government initiative have been sold off for a fraction of their true value.

More than 1,000 second-hand computers were donated to households in Kensington, a run-down area of Liverpool, as part of the Wired Up Communities project sponsored by the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE). The Kensington project was the first of six giveaway projects aimed at preventing a digital divide. It has now emerged that a number of the donated PCs have allegedly been sold on by residents.

Kensington's Regeneration team -- the body set up to oversee the project -- was unaware that the computers were being disposed of in this way until today, and said it is investigating the matter. "There is always an element of risk with work of this kind and we have done everything we could in trying to eliminate the risk," said Mick Hanratty, communications manager. "However as a pilot area there are lessons to be learnt."

The DfEE has said the problem is on a small scale, and is confident that the sold computers can be recovered. "Many people in Kensington have shown a great deal of enthusiasm for the project," said a DfEE spokesman. "However, there can be a tiny minority in any community who aren't committed to the aims of the project."

But this is not the first time the government's Wired-up Communities project has come under the spotlight. Last week it emerged that only 6,000 of the proposed 100,000 recycled PCs had actually been delivered, a problem the government claimed was down to contractors.

Households in receipt of recycled PCs have to register at the Wired-up centre and complete a detailed registration form. The recipient is also required to sign a License Agreement, stating that legal action can be taken against anyone who disposes of the equipment in an unlawful manner.

Wired Up Communities is intended to improve educational opportunities and job prospects in impoverished areas of the UK. In Kensington, 50 IT experts have been employed to demonstrate to local people the benefits of being connected in the community.

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