Spare the spin on the e-economy

Next week, the Government is expected to produce its first annual report on the UK's progress towards the e-economy.

The report should make...

Next week, the Government is expected to produce its first annual report on the UK's progress towards the e-economy.

The report should make interesting reading - because the past 12 months have been characterised by constant friction between the Government's e-rhetoric and reality.

First there was the row over the tax treatment of IT contractors, then a contentious debate over the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, a string of high-profile dotcom failures, and finally a string of embarrassing security faults in the online banks. Meanwhile, progress towards the provision of local broadband and unmetered Internet access has been painfully slow - arguably because regulation of the sector is painfully weak.

And just as Tony Blair tried to bask in the glory of AltaVista's initial announcement on unmetered access, the ignominious failure of the service will reflect badly on central government's e-credibility.

There are some promising signs, however. The performance of e-minister Patricia Hewitt has been largely applauded, and there is still goodwill towards e-envoy Alex Allan, though the time to deliver is fast approaching.

The central problem remains: the Government is slow to understand business needs - by which we mean the needs of ICT users, not suppliers.

Its singular failure to listen to business over the RIP Act has produced a confused and unsatisfactory post-legislation consultation process that is generating much ill-will in the user community.

On e-government, while there are many small success stories, the whole online tax-filing debacle shows that it may be difficult to deliver once the low-hanging fruit has been plucked.

In the meantime, the Government should spare the spin next week. The UK is not the best environment for e-commerce, nor is it currently close to being so. No amount of photo opportunities with school computers or town-hall Internet booths can hide that fact.

This was last published in September 2000



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