A year ago the prime minister, Tony Blair, set some very challenging goals to make the UK a leading knowledge economy. These included:n making this country the best place in the world for e-commercen delivering universal Internet access by 2005
We've already made progress. And in September the prime minister launched UK Online - an accelerated programme to get citizens, business and government online.
Over the past year we have seen a surge in businesses getting online. Some 1.7 million UK small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) are already online. Our latest benchmarking report shows that 450,000 SMEs are also trading online.
This puts us on a par with the US and Canada and we lead all the other countries benchmarked in this report, including Germany and Sweden.
Few businesses are exploiting the full power of e-business. The challenge now, particularly for SMEs, is to move beyond brochure-ware to fully e-enabled supply chain management. If we are to be the best place in the world to trade online, we must create an environment which nurtures new and emerging e-businesses.
We are equipping people with ICT knowledge and skills through initiatives to reach businesses and consumers. These include the Department of Trade & Industry-led UK Online For Business programme (formerly known as the Information Society Initiative) which helps businesses to get the most out of new information and communications technology.
Its national network of several hundred advisers offers accessible, independent, jargon-free advice to small and medium-sized firms so that they can find the right commercial solutions to meet their business needs.
Driven by what businesses have told us they need, last month I announced a £5.5m Mentoring Initiative, designed to help Internet start-ups and established SMEs who want to make the Internet the primary means of doing business.
Under this initiative, companies will be able to access tailored business advice via an interactive Web portal and entrepreneurs will be helped not only to develop business and marketing strategies, but also get access to funding and tackle regulatory issues.
E-business is going to power economic activity in the future and we want to make sure that the UK leads the way. We need to be looking ahead to the next big leap for Internet access towards mobile telephone, broadband and interactive digital television. And we are well placed to do this.
The UK has one of the most liberalised and competitive telecommunications market in the world and we are continuing to drive competition further and faster into the market. We want to see affordable multimedia access for everyone.
The UKis a world leader in digital television, with one in five homes now owning a digital TV set. This year too we held the world's first auction of spectrum for the third generation (3G) mobile services and on 10 November, the auction for broadband fixed wireless access - the wireless local loop - will commence.
UK businesses, consumers and the economy more generally, will benefit from the different means of delivering Internet and multimedia services, which I expect will result in a faster roll-out of innovative services and lower prices.
With the lowest off-peak Internet prices in Europe, and a leading position in 3G and digital TV, the UK is poised to become one of the first countries to realise the vision of the Internet anywhere, anytime, on any device.
On behalf of UK Online For Business I am delighted to support this E-Business Month. Promoting awareness of e-business is crucial for the UK to continue to play a leading role in driving technology forward and build a commanding position not just in the European Union, but in the rest of the world.
To find your nearest UK Online For Business adviser, call the information line on 0845-715 2000 or visit www.ukonlineforbusiness.gov.uk which also has this year's International Benchmarking Study