Users tell Blair to find e-envoy, fast

The credibility of the UK as strong environment for e-business could be seriously damaged unless the Government ends the delay...

The credibility of the UK as strong environment for e-business could be seriously damaged unless the Government ends the delay over appointing an e-envoy, business leaders have warned

An influential group of e-business leaders is anxious about the Government's failure to appoint an e-envoy to replace Alex Allan, who resigned in October.

Allan told the prime minister of his intention to resign during the summer and the Cabinet Office said a new e-envoy would be appointed during November.

The Christmas recess promises to create more delays and electioneering in the New Year could cause further distractions.

Representatives of the employers body the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, Communications Management Association (CMA), Technical Infrastructure Forum (Tif) and Federation for the Electronics Industry have backed a statement from Alan Boxer, managing director of the independent advisory group e-Centre UK, demanding action.

The statement, initiated by Boxer said, "The Blair Government told us that the e-envoy would make a key contribution to the vision of Britain as 'the best place to do business electronically' and we have consistently supported the need for that person. Now, there are disturbing signs that the original message may be getting lost."

Cabinet Office sources say there were almost 100 initial applicants for the job, but that headhunters were hired because of the shortage of suitable candidates. With Christmas looming preliminary interviews are still taking place, the Cabinet Office confirmed this week.

Boxer went on to raise an increasingly widespread fear among e-business leaders. "My concern," he said, "is that we are asking one individual to do two jobs that are incompatible. The first is effective implementation of electronic methods within government departments and agencies.

"The second job, that may lose its focus, is to actually be an envoy, between government and industry and the public. It is vital to have someone in post upon whom communication, co-ordination, and co-regulation with industry is focused."

CBI head of e-business Nigel Hickson backed Boxer. "The e-envoy has been portrayed as a defence for ministers on their e-government record. We want the e-envoy to trumpet the achievements of UK plc in terms of e-business success, our entrepreneurs, skills base and tax environment. A new appointment is long overdue."

The CMA's David Harrington raised the fear that the selection of the new e-envoy could get tangled up with a spring general election. "Surely we don't have to wait until after the election for a permanent appointment to be made," said Harrington. "The damage caused to national progress by an additional four to five month delay could be considerable."

Tim Gregory, chairman of the Tif, said the Government has to gets its own house in order. "Equally, business needs to have an open line to government to help it develop the e-commerce playing field that positions Britain as the lead player," he said.

John Higgins of the IT suppliers' body the CSSA, was reluctant to criticise the Government. "It is a pity the e-envoy's appointment is dragging on although [interim e-envoy] Andrew Pinder is doing a good job minding the shop," said Higgins.

Despite the deep disquiet among many industry leaders there remains much goodwill about the Government's efforts. Most called for Patricia Hewitt to be promoted to the Cabinet and keep her e-minister's role.

The Cabinet Office said, "The agenda is not suffering because we have someone in place as acting e-envoy."

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