Headlines: January 20th, 2004

The Government has published guidelines on Home Computing Initiatives to help businesses and public sector organisations take advantage of an annual tax exemption on loaned equipment. The scheme, introduced by the Chancellor in 1999 allows employers to lend computers to their staff as a tax-free benefit.The guidelines produced by the DTI, in association with DfES and the Cabinet Office, contain more information about how the scheme can benefit organisations and employees. They have advice on how to get started and a set of technical implementation guidelines approved by the Inland Revenue and others, as well as case studies from organisations that have implemented HCI schemes.

The launch of the guidelines coincides with the publication of a survey showing people who have a computer at home believe it makes them more productive at work. The study, conducted for the Office of the e-Envoy, found three-quarters of people believe a home computer helps them to achieve greater work-life balance. Eight out of 10 employees said their employer had seen a benefit from their having a computer with 61 per cent claiming improved IT skills, 65 per cent greater familiarity with the Internet and 51 per cent believing skills learned at home had been useful at work.

Launching the guidelines, Trade and Industry Secretary and E-Cabinet Minister Patricia Hewitt, said the Home Computing schemes meant that employers could maximise potential in the work place. Basic computer and technology skills were now regarded as essential for the majority of jobs and IT confident employees had a greater capacity to contribute to an organisation’s overall performance.

The Government is working with industry to promote Home Computing Initiative schemes. The HCI Alliance, made up of BT, Intel and Microsoft, has pledged funds to help to promote the guidelines and HCI schemes more widely. Members of the Alliance were at the launch with Andrew Pinder, the e-Envoy, Brendan Barber of the TUC and John Sunderland of the CBI.

Brendan Barber said there was a real thirst in the workforce for better computer skills. People knew, he added, that computers were more and more crucial to the way they lived and worked and they wanted hands-on experience at work and at home. Digby Jones, of the CBI, said the UK had to improve the skills of its workforce to sustain the economy and compete in the value-added, innovative, branded end of the market. He said IT literacy had to become an integral part of the country’s DNA.