The government has announced it will throw money at training and drop-in centres in a bid to switch on millions of technophobes to computers. But it may need to heed its own advice.

The government is to grow its network of business internet centres as part of a campaign known as UK Online. It also plans to offer online courses through the centres as well as to businesses.

Tony Blair is hoping to get over 600 new IT and internet advice centres opened this year, with a future target of 6,000. The centres will be places where people who do not know how to use computers can take their first steps. They will then be offered the opportunity to do online courses.

“Small businesses will benefit from getting staff with more computer skills,” using this scheme, said a spokesperson for the Department for Education and Employment. The online courses will be in both IT skills and vocational subjects.

Britain’s smaller firms could also benefit from getting new or existing employees to take part in courses online while at work or at home. The courses will be designed, run and supported by LearnDirect, the public brand of the government’s University for Industry initiative.

“The traditional barrier to SMEs [small to medium sized enterprises] is that if you employ 10 people and you send one of them on course for a day, you’ve lost 10 percent of your workforce,” said a spokesperson for LearnDirect. “Also it will be cheaper to train people, with support, at work than to send them off for a day.”

But SMEs are no doubt hoping the government takes some of its own medicine. According to a report from telecommunications company RSL Com, SMEs are bewildered by technology and think the IT industry and the government are to blame.

The research revealed 77 percent of UK SMEs do not think the government has been doing enough to explain the business advantages of the Internet.

Two-thirds of businesses think the IT industry’s failure to communicate technology advantages, without sinking into ‘techno-babble’, was a serious problem.