Thought for the day: We must be responsive to industry's needs

Labour minister for e-commerce, Mike O'Brien explains what it is doing to support e-business and deliver e-government

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Labour minister for e-commerce, Mike O'Brien explains what it is doing to support e-business and deliver e-government




Labour recognises that a successful IT industry is essential to a prosperous Britain. The industry employs one million people, has spawned 130,000 companies, makes accessible our public services and enriches the lives of countless individuals.

It is a rapidly changing industry at the cutting edge of technology and we believe government must be flexible and intuitive in response to its needs.

To be a highly productive, world-beating knowledge-based economy, we must have people with specialist skills in IT, electronics and communications technologies to fill demand. We must ensure the industry keeps skills here by treating people in the workplace right.

Over the past three years the Labour government has worked with many stakeholders, including the sector skills councils, to address this issue. Labour has invested £7m in action programmes to open the sector to women and other under-represented groups; to encourage more young people in schools to learn about electronics; to place graduates in good quality work placements; and address work/life balance issues in the IT industry.

We are acting to ensure IT applications such as broadband help Britain stay ahead. A few years ago our broadband market was lagging behind international comparators and the government responded by setting a target for the UK to have the most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 by 2005.

Today, broadband networks are available to more than 90% of households, prices are continuing to fall and there are some five million broadband subscribers, up from one million in October 2002.

But now we must adopt, adapt and absorb broadband so that new applications and content can help UK businesses compete effectively on an international basis; transform the consumer internet experience; and drive better public services. That is why Labour is committed to having every school connected to broadband by 2006 and every GP's surgery wired up. This is good news for Britain and will create new jobs in the IT industry.

Our first priority was to develop policies to ensure the availability of broadband across the UK. Now we want to see that range of services develop. We have set up Ofcom - an independent regulator fit for this fast-moving broadband world.

E-business empowers business processes and has a key role in how businesses function with other businesses, customers and in their internal operations. It is also essential to our commitment to accessible e-government, where we have made good progress towards our objective of making services available online and achieving high levels of use.

We are supporting e-business in many ways. For example, we have expanded and improved the Business Link website to provide a single point of access to government information which assists businesses start, improve or grow by providing free advice, funding streams and training.

We have made £1bn available for investment in broadband across education, health, criminal justice and other public services.

We have modernised the regulatory and legal framework to meet the needs of the e-economy, for example through the Electronic Communications Act 2000, which facilitates the use of e-mail in commercial transactions, and the Electronic Commerce Regulations 2002, which set out what information and contractual processes a business conducting e-business must adhere to.

We are helping to win trust in e-business by ensuring that e-commerce is secure. In partnership with industry we have produced an Information Security Breaches Survey, helping businesses understand the risks they face, and we are involved in various initiatives to promote the use of ISO/IEC 17799 and BS 7799 - the international and British standards on information security.

We have come a long way over the past seven years, and the IT industry is bound to become bigger and better. That is why we need to work to be in better touch to respond to the needs of the industry quickly and flexibly. I believe we have done a good job, but there is a lot more to do. I have just taken over as the new minister for e-commerce and I look forward to the challenge.

Mike O'Brien is minister for e-commerce

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