Blair launches UK Online

Government and e-commerce: E-business attitudes come under attack

Prime minister Tony Blair this week launched a £1bn effort to push Whitehall's culture into the e-business age.

Blair said he would get "buy-in" from the civil servants pivotal to e-business change through a combination of bonuses linked to results and an experimental no-blame culture. The Government is still determined to get all of its services online by 2005, he said.

Launching the UK Online initiative, Blair said that both the public and private sector are going through a period of radical change.

"This isn't a new economy," he said. "It is an economy that is going to be transformed by change - the whole shape of our economy will be changed."

The Government plans to have major government services to business, such as VAT and company registration online by 2002. Applications for passports and benefits are expected to be available online by 2005.

                         

Reflections

Experts and influential insiders give their views on the Government's new UK Online initiative, as well as the turbulent relationship with business over e-commerce.

Anthony Parish, director general of the Federation for the Electronics Industry:

"Tony Blair came over pretty well at the launch. We have to move on from the RIP business. It's over. Now we have to start working together again on e-business and electronic government.

"We're all struggling to find proper benchmarks for business to business e-commerce. Many small and medium sized businesses still do not have the infrastructure in place."

Jim Norton, E-Commerce Director, Institute of Directors:

"This is an excellent statement of objectives and is an achievement. People will judge Tony Blair on his e-business targets. However, he must not underestimate the difficulty of business change. The Government has gone a long way and has the right idea, but tends to be timid in implementation."

John Bennett, Managing Director of BG Technology and host of the UK Online event:

Changing a business culture takes time: "Shifting attitudes and behaviour takes years, not a few months."

Senior Industry Leader, who asked not to be named:

"The problem with Whitehall is that there are no incentives to deliver - it doesn't go out of business if it doesn't deliver. And permanent secretaries do not try to demonstrate leadership in the way that industry leaders do. They come up with excellent policies but lack implementation strategies."

John Higgins, director-general, Computing Services & Software Association:

"We still have some work to do on issues such as [the taxation of] stock options for [employees in IT companies]. We've discussed the issue with government, but they believe they went far enough in Gordon Brown's last budget. You could say we're better off than many other European countries on stock options and so on, but we still need to sit down and discuss this further."

                         

E-minister Patricia Hewitt said there should be a partnership between Government and the private sector to save public money by making procurement procedures more efficient. "We need to set out what we want to achieve and not simply automate an inefficient process," she said. "A lot of ministers are picking up the pieces of poor procurement in the past."

UK Online includes a list of 25 commitments and 95 specific actions to get businesses, people and government online.

The Government will provide £25m of new funding over the next two years to advise businesses on how to exploit new technologies.

To increase Internet use by the British public, Blair announced an 80% discount on IT training courses for all adults, free online training for the unemployed and 6,000 online centres by the end of 2002 where anyone can get Internet training.

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