Becta boss admits 'free PC' scheme will offer limited margins for retailers, but says benefits outweigh the downsides

BETT 2010: Home Access scheme ?screws? retailers? margins

Retailers signing up to the government’s programme to provide free PCs to poorer families must accept lower margins on their hardware, one of the scheme’s bosses has said.

Niel McLean, executive director of institutional and workforce development at Becta, the government agency responsible for the scheme, told PCR that the long-term benefits of offering ‘Home Access’ packages outweighed their small margins.

“For the retailers, it’s footfall. People who have never been involved in computing are going into the stores. It gets them involved in an active way. It’s nice to be associated with a high-profile programme, so it gives them visibility,” he said.

“We are doing this on behalf of the taxpayer so we screw retailers on their margins… We’re very conscious of taxpayers’ money and some retailers will think they can make better margins other places and that’s fine, that’s the business. But it’s an attractive scheme in a lot of other ways.”

McLean added that the opportunities for add-on sales, such as peripherals, were another benefit for retailers.

The £300 million Home Access scheme, announced by the government this week, has already had around 20,000 requests for information packs. Families with children in school years three to nine (aged around seven to 14), who are entitled to free schools meals, can apply for a grant to buy a computer and broadband connection. Children in care or with special needs up to the age of 18 are also eligible for the scheme.

Eligible families will received a pre-paid debit card, which can be used to purchase a computer and connectivity from an approved retailer. According to McLean, safeguards are in place that only allow the card to be used to purchase an approved Home Access machine, which must have a certain specification and certain parental controls.

Currently the approved partners in the scheme are Comet, Misco, BLi Education, Centerprise (through Brighthouse and Phones 4 U), Positive IT (through Cartridge World) and XMA (through T-Mobile), but Becta is looking for more.

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