Taking the lead in global digital excellence

Labour aims to end digital divide and improve public service delivery

The world doesn't stand still - it is transforming all the time and at a rapid pace. The Chinese economy, with wages at 5% of ours, is growing rapidly. India and China are producing 125,000 computer science graduates every year - more than twice the whole of the EU. In the 1980s, less than 10% of the UK's manufacturing imports came from developing countries. Today it is almost 30%, and in 20 years' time it will be about 50%. Clearly, we as a nation face a major challenge.

Businesses and government have both had to develop their approach to ICT and become more sophisticated users. The challenge is to help many more businesses and especially small organisations understand the benefits of exploiting ICT. ICT has to be integrated throughout the organisation and throughout the supply chain.

That offers a better return on investment. But it also poses new challenges. It means a business not only identifying its technological needs, but addressing also business processes, people, organisation, culture. Focusing just on the technology reduces the benefits. But when it is done right, e-business can increase productivity, enhance competitiveness and stimulate innovation.

And that is why it is so important. As a nation, we have for a long time lagged behind on productivity, and doing something about that is top of our agenda. We have closed the productivity gap in key sectors. In 1984, the US, Germany and France were all more than twice as productive as the UK in computer services. By 2001, that gap had virtually disappeared.

Labour wants to make the UK a world leader in digital excellence with public services that are even more responsive, personalised and efficient than the leading companies that have successfully deployed the internet to serve their customers.

We are committed to ending the digital divide for families with children, and the prime minister's strategy unit and DTI, in partnership with industry aim to make the UK a world leader in digital excellence and the first nation to close the digital divide. The government is committed to improving accessibility to technology for the digitally excluded and ease of use for the disabled. UK businesses are among the most sophisticated users of ICT in the world. By the end of this summer, 99% of the population will have access to broadband and the rate of broadband adoption exceeds the rates of adoption seen for mains electricity, colour TV and mobile phones.
Last month we announced a "Digital Challenge" prize to be awarded to a local authority and its partners to give universal on line access to local public services. The winner will have the opportunity to demonstrate the ability to transform service delivery through by using technology to deliver modern services for modern citizens.

We have also given a firm commitment to give all students the opportunity to access ICT at home through a low-cost national laptop and PC leasing scheme. This will help ensure that ICT is embedded in education to improve the quality of learning and equip children with skills increasingly essential in the workplace. All learners will have their own virtual learning space where they can store and access their work.

And we are committed to working with the IT industry to create the safest possible online environment, backed by the police, charities, and the industry. The Home Office announced last month the establishment of a multi-agency national internet safety centre to deter criminals targeting children for internet crime and to reassure parents. And we will work with the banking industry to make that sector a market leader in terms of online authentication.

We are also pledging further steps towards closing the digital divide by building on the network of UK Online centres and other communal access points giving adult learners the support, incentives and skills they need to make the most of ICT. We are committed to creating the right environment to stimulate broadband content, particularly in public procurement. This will set out guidance on broadband content procurement by the public sector.

More broadly in public services, we are working to improve delivery and achieve long-term cost savings by joining up online government services around the needs of their users, and I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this with the industry as we publish further details of our IT strategy for public services later this year.

Patricia Hewitt is secretary of state for trade and industry

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