A TEAM of specialists set up to make computers accessible to everyone has earned a major national honour.

Derwentside District Council has been awarded Beacon Status for its policy of social inclusion through information communications technology.

Alan Hodgson, the authority's director of information services, said: "This is a tremendous achievement for a small district council.

"To be singled out as an excellent example of good practice speaks volumes about the quality of the work of our staff and the council's partners."

The Government gives the award to councils that have helped to boost ICT use for groups who would not otherwise have access, such as deprived communities, young people and the elderly.

Schemes that caught the eye of ministers include the Spice Project, set up to give youngsters a bigger voice in local government.

The authority has also pursued a programme of supplyine information technology to community centres, such as taking high-speed broadband internet access to Craghead village hall, near Stanley.

Despite only covering a relatively small area of County Durham, Derwentside is the leading authority in the region in terms of internet services; its team runs on-line networks for most other North-East councils. These include Wear Valley, Teesdale, Northumberland and Durham, plus the metropolitan authorities of Newcastle and Gateshead.

With the award comes a grant of £40,000 which Derwentside will spend on teaching other councils how to follow its example.

Infrastructure manager Steven Hodgson said: "We are probably three to four years ahead of most other authorities in terms of our ICT provision and set-up.

"We have already been invited to attend user groups in various places across the UK."

Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford said: "The achievement is a real example of how a good service can make a real difference to people's lives."