E-Envoy report receives cautious welcome

The UK is on course to be the best place in the world for e-commerce, and more than half the population are now online.

The UK is on course to be the best place in the world for e-commerce, and more than half the population are now online.

This was the claim made at the launch of the second annual UK Online report by Andrew Pinder, the e-envoy, and Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Pinder said half of government services were already e-enabled, and he hoped this would reach 70% plus by end of 2002. He highlighted the fact that 1.9 million businesses were now online, and pointed to the 2,000 UK Online centres around the country that are providing internet access and training.

But Patricia Hewitt admitted that the hardest work was still ahead and that broadband roll-out would remain the key issue in ensuring the UK's role as a world leader in the knowledge economy.

An action plan for the year ahead includes an initiative with industry to drive broadband roll-out, promotion of a secure environment for e-commerce, and the development of a light-touch global framework for e-commerce.

Work will begin on integrating all government Internet access initiatives into one UK online-branded programme. There will also be a continuation of the work to embed ICT into the UK educational system.

The Confederation of British Industry has backed the government line on broadband, as has Ken D'Rosario, the head of UK public sector strategy and development at Alcatel.

"It is great to see the government has taken on board the views of industry and the Broadband Stakeholders Group and is looking to focus on delivering the services that businesses and citizens will want through broadband," D'Rosario said. "The technology is merely the railroad track but it is up to the government to provide the services that will drive it."

But the Communications Management Association (CMA) was less impressed. "It is disappointing that the government has passed up the opportunity to use fiscal incentives to stimulate infrastructure investment as proposed by the Broadband Stakeholders Group," said the CMA's deputy director general, Mark Smith. "This might have provided a valuable push to both the demand and supply sides of the industry."

Fahri Zihni, vice-president of the Society of IT Management (Socitm), the local government IT directors' organisation, was pleased that the report recognised the importance of his members in delivering e-government.

"It was excellent to see the e-envoy recognise the importance of local government in making strategic service and technology decisions with central government. Socitm also welcomes the e-envoy highlighting the greater diversity of services offered by local government.

"However, e-government is expensive, and local government needs more money. Better guidance on the use of the Gateway and potential for a national scheme of authentication - rather than local authorities doing their own thing - is also desperately needed," Zihni said.

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