We need policies that Open Britain for On-line Business

Last Thursday EURIM launched its Policy Studies Prospectus for 2011 – 12. This adds a new dimension to current working group, scrutiny and monitoring activities. It is intended to help secure the resources necessary to address the policy gaps that have opened up as politicians and advisors recognise the importance of issues like broadband, privacy, cybersecurity, confidence and professionalism but fail to recognise how they are interlinked and must be addressed in parallel.

Stephen McParland MP (Conservative) and the Rt Hon Alun Michael MP (Labour), both Directors of EURIM, made a bipartisan call for policies that ensure the UK remains the location of choice for high-value, knowledge-based business and industries. 

In his remarks at the start of the reception, Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said: “The ICT sector is an integral and growing part of the UK economy, but in the Internet age we cannot view the UK in isolation.  We are part of a global digital market and we must face the challenges this brings or risk losing our competitive edge. The Government is committed to equipping the UK with the tools to meet these challenge, and building a broadband network that covers the whole of the country is one of our key priorities.”

The event was co-hosted by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), the Government Department that helps UK-based companies succeed globally. Its Acting Chief Executive, Susan Haird, spoke about UKTI’s recent five year strategy: ‘Britain: Open for Business’. This outlines the Government’s commitment to supporting international business and attracting investors to the UK through a range of ‘business-friendly’ initiatives. These include bringing more private expertise to Government, supporting institutional investors in winning large scale projects in the UK, and attracting a pipeline of up to 750 foreign direct investments every year.


EURIM launched the first in a series of new policy studies for the Information Society Alliance to help keep Britain at the forefront of the globally competitive Information Society. The prospectus begins with a call for politicians, official and industry to work together to produce joined up policies, local, national and European, that will enable market forces to pull through investment in shared infrastructures for broadband and smart metering and economic recovery around UK-based global production and trading hubs.

 The Alliance study on Shared Infrastructure builds on the recent decisions on Government support for local area broadband projects. With four successful county bids from eighteen submitted in the competition for Government money, Local Authorities and elected officials from across the UK need to consider all options to get the ‘fourth utility’ to many hard-to-reach homes. The lead members of the study team believe that 100 megabits broadband across the UK can be provided with the funds already available, provided a mix of local enterprise and market forces makes full use of existing infrastructure. They also believe that sharing and building on existing infrastructures could dramatically cut the cost of providing local online access to public services thus enabling major savings to both central and local Government as well as opening up access for business.


#   There are 5,600 telephone exchanges in the UK through which broadband reaches homes. But there are 150,000 power substations reaching around 98 per cent of homes. In many cases fibre could be strung up alongside power lines to homes instead of digging up roads.


#        The UK has an extensive schools network with a Government requirement for each to have a minimum standard of broadband connectivity. Primary schools typically have 20 megabits per second and secondary schools 100 megabits. In some cases these are already being used to provide broadband to local councils, businesses and homes.

#         At the same time hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent to upgrade health service networks, councils around the UK are planning network upgrades and the Department of Energy and Climate Change is co-ordinating an £11 billion smart metering programme which will entail physical installation visits to over 30 million households and businesses as well as an always-on communications network.    

#       Combining the infrastructure investment of smart metering and broadband would also help meet Government Green targets by reducing the 570 TWh of Electricity consumed annually in UK transmission losses, energy conversion and over production: 3 times the output of our active nuclear power stations. High speed broadband enables millions more to work from home, further reducing energy usage and emissions.

The study will look at the economics, practicalities and politics of bringing the agendas together including the role of government and regulators, the means of bringing about central cross-department/agency/regulator co-operation and whether solutions are best planned centrally or left to market forces and local initiative within international inter-operability standards.

I have already blogged on the other main study announced at the reception – that to secure  joined-up UK and EU regimes for  Information and Identity Governance that will attract rather than repel legitimate wealth creating on-line businesses.


This will look at how to join up UK/EU regulatory structures and initiatives in order to:

·         attract and foster reputable, wealth-creating businesses with regulatory regimes that are fit for purpose, i.e. they support and encourage good practice, including secure interoperability with trusted partners in other parts of the world under different legislative and regulatory regimes;


·         reduce the risk of driving reputable businesses offshore to avoid spending time and money on tick box regulatory regimes which get in the way of good customer service; and


·         reduce reliance on systems that are liable to catastrophic failure, with all that means for trust and reputational loss.


The press release for the event reminded editors that the Information Society Alliance (EURIM) is the policy studies group for Information Society issues. It is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee with political members (including MPs and MEPs), corporate members, professional bodies, trade associations and other interest groups. Officials and advisors in London and Brussels have observer status. 

The Alliance organises working groups to look at ICT and related issues that Government, policy makers, officials and/or industry agree need to be addressed. The groups aim for peer-reviewed consensus and practical recommendations on what should happen.

Later this week EURIM expects to agree a Memorandum of Understanding with the European Internet Foundation on co-operation in London and Brussels.