Hire an e-envoy with conviction

The Government's failure to swiftly appoint a permanent successor for Alex Allan is unfortunate. The rumoured decision to focus the remit of the e-envoy...

The Government's failure to swiftly appoint a permanent successor for Alex Allan is unfortunate. The rumoured decision to focus the remit of the e-envoy mainly towards Whitehall and e-government is also problematic.

It occurs at a time when very slow progress is being made on the Government's e-skills strategy; when UK firms are falling behind their G7 counterparts in investment and productivity; and when telecoms firms are screaming out for a strong regulatory lead on broadband access.

The situation reflects Labour's inability to decide what the Government should do to promote the e-economy.

That statement may seem unkind, given the Government's propensity to issue rallying calls, targets, tick-boxes and mission statements. But behind the rhetoric there is still clearly an absence of leadership on e-economy issues.

Two weeks before Allan resigned, Computer Weekly advised Tony Blair to "get an e-grip!" We repeat that advice today.

The e-minister, Patricia Hewitt, has spent the past six months making welcome and well-informed appearances in the places that matter. She has pushed for industry guidelines, flown to India to look for solutions to the skills crisis, and fronted a series of industry initiatives on security and best practice.

We need that kind of drive and comprehension at cabinet level.This week's figures on UK capital investment show that, in most sectors, British firms are falling behind their G7 counterparts. On R&D, capital expenditure and productivity we are way behind.

That is not a problem to be hived off to a junior minister - still less to a quasi-civil servant.

And the Government should not allow the worthy task of e-transformation in Whitehall to be higher on the agenda than the e-transformation of the economy.

Allan's remit was changed, before he resigned, to include policing Whitehall IT projects.

That is a big enough job for one talented individual on its own - but it's not what Britain's e-leader should primarily be concerned with.

The Government's long-term plans on education are admirable and will, over the next ten years, boost the skills and e-literacy of the workforce. But they will not solve today's problems: skills crisis, underinvestment and poor access to broadband communications.

The Government has raised needless obstacles to the e-economy. IR35 certainly does not help the skills crisis. The RIP Actis a major disincentive toconducting e-commerce operations in this country and an open invitation for firms to locate in Eire, where a liberal cybertapping regime is combined with a high-skill workforce and modern telecoms infrastructure.

With the election looming, it may be that we have to wait until after next May to get a replacement for Allan.

Tony Blair needs to make sure that, whoever is appointed to be the new e-commissar, they come with a plausible five-year plan.

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