Labour understands that new technology is not confined to Internet start-ups and the communications industry; it runs through all sectors of the economy. The Tories comprehensively failed to prepare Britain for the ongoing electronic revolution, but we will assist all businesses to take advantage of the modern economy. We are committed that all government services will be online and everyone will have access to the Internet by 2005.
We established UKOnline for business in 2000 to provide tailored advice to UK firms about information and communication technology and doing business online. To facilitate commerce throughout the economy, the Electronic Communications Act provides for legal recognition of electronic signatures.
By October 2000, 1.7 million small to medium sized enterprises were online in the UK. We will now work to boost the number of SMEs actually training online from 450,000 to 1 million by 2002. For example, to encourage small businesses to invest in computing and information technology, Budget 2000 introduced 100% capital allowances for these items in the year of their purchase.
Labour will ensure that the UK has the communications infrastructure necessary to support its economy in the 21st Century. The first ever auction of spectrum for third generation mobile telecommunication services puts us at the forefront of developments in this vital industry.
We will introduce simple and effective regulation for the communications and broadcasting industries, providing the best environment to give consumers more choice while maintaining quality. The Government's Communications White Paper proposes creation of a single communications and broadcasting regulator (Ofcom) to assist this process.
We are working for easier and cheaper Internet access by improving competition in the provision of fixed-line telecommunications services. We support Oftel's plans for local loop unbundling. This will improve competition in the delivery of Internet services.
The IT revolution is affecting almost every area of daily business life, and daily personal life. It is probably no exaggeration to say that the development of the Web ranks right with the major milestones of civilisation. With the Iron Age, through the age of steam, to the invention of the internal combustion engine. The industrial revolution has now been displaced by a communications revolution. It is vital that government provides the right environment to nurture and support the talented businessmen and women who can lead us in the new economy and help to make Britain a leading player in the global market. In the go-anywhere world of the new economy, no country can take industry for granted.
Britain is losing the lead that we established through low tax combined with light, sensible regulation. In a sector that moves at astonishing speed, our position is fragile. Other countries are catching up, while the Government has introduced a series of ill-judged regulations and taxes that threaten to hold our entrepreneurs back. Whatever happens to the stock market, with its various dot-com wobbles, e-business is here to stay. Whatever corrections there may be, the Internet is here to stay.
The new international economy will be a knowledge-based economy. That means getting the fundamentals of skills and education right. Across the world, governments need to free up schools and universities to give them the flexibility to adapt to industry's changing needs. The best approach would be to build on our existing advantages such as the English language, our excellent software skills, and our entrepreneurial spirit. Keeping government interference to a minimum can do this. That is what the Conservative approach will be.
E-business is fundamental to the future prosperity of the UK economy and to the competitive position of UK industry. The Liberal Democrats are committed to maintaining an environment that will allow the potential of e-business to be fully realised. This will require co-operation between the private and public sectors on key issues such as consumer interests, privacy, taxation/tariffs and law enforcement to ensure the UK is a leader in e-business. Liberal Democrats are committed to a policy based on the following:
- A legal framework which encourages and promotes consumer confidence in e-business
- The development of technologies which allow a high degree of integrity and confidentiality thereby providing online security for consumers
- Widening Internet access to ensure accessibility to all individuals and groups
- Increasing the number of government services available electronically
- A clear, equitable and internationally common legal and taxation environment for businesses engaged in both e-business and non e-business. This will ensure a level playing field and enable proper admin-istration and enforcement of legislation
- Ensuring there is nothing in UK law that hinders the world-wide growth of e-business. We are committed to reviewing the impact on the e-business sector of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
For the Green party, the growth of e-business and e-commerce is something of a double-edged sword. We are keen to see economic development and the spread of prosperity around the globe, but development must be sustainable. E-business must develop in a way that supports rather than compromises sustainability. The ease of setting up a website and even some form of electronic transaction handling can enable many smaller organisations to play a bigger role in the electronic market than they might in a physical world that is dominated by big businesses wielding enormous power. The Green Party is keen to promote a vibrant and diverse small business sector, and so we recognise the benefits that electronic communications can offer.
E-commerce can also offer the prospect for 'peripheral' countries like Scotland to compete as effectively in the European single market as players nearer the 'centre'. The potential drawback is that e-business could easily exacerbate the problems of a globalising economy, in which more goods are transported ever greater distances around the globe. The increasing distances involved in international trade represent a major environmental and economic problem. Road transport directly contributes 25% of greenhouse gases - up to 50% if indirect factors are taken into account (such as roadbuilding, vehicle manufacture and other aspects of transport infrastructure provision). Air transport is growing fast, and is proportionately more polluting than road transport. Climate change is probably destined to become the world's single biggest economic problem, with some predicting that its effects could equal or even surpass global GDP sometime this century. To see this in perspective, think of last autumn's severe weather in which two bad storms caused damage estimated at £2.4bn. Anything which encourages avoidable greenhouse gas pollution must be viewed as socially, economically and ecologically irresponsible.
The Green Party would like to see e-business, as with other manifestations of modern technology, help to tackle such problems, not exacerbate them.
Over to You
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