Essex – in the 1980s the alleged home of a certain sort of flash but coarse individual – has improved its ‘corporate’ image dramatically in the last few years. This despite the unbelievable but true 2004 case of a purveyor of pirated DVDs who walked into a county trading standards office on his sales round, trying to flog his filched content to the bemused copyright cops. Back in the real world of Essex, educational improvement in is an established priority for the county. In 2004 it began an ambitious programme to introduce no less than 200,000 wireless laptops to students and teachers by the end of next year.

The next step, says the county council, will be an investigation of how to better link or cluster learning institutions by wireless broadband. This complements the existing commitment to e-enabling community education: in 2000 Essex created a curriculum website for 600 schools and colleges which encourages active participation in creating educational resources.

Essex signed a seven-year, £130m deal with BT in 2001 to supply all its information and communications technology services. The contract has covered both a major technology refresh (7,500 new PCs) as well as the introduction of upgraded HR and payroll systems.

On a lighter note, some web surfers reported that Google’s new communist government-friendly Chinese edition blocked access to the county council’s web site as it contained, alas, the forbidden word ‘sex’ in its title.