What the check list doesn't tell



The UK's e-economy is making healthy progress, if the Government's second annual report on e-commerce is to be believed. Targets for SMEs online were...



The UK's e-economy is making healthy progress, if the Government's second annual report on e-commerce is to be believed. Targets for SMEs online were "smashed", consumers are taking to digital TV like ducks to water, and no fewer than 24 out of 60 goals outlined last year have been marked complete.

But that's the trouble with check lists and target-driven policy - they sometimes mask reality.

Take commitment number one: Oftel to remove barriers to online competition. This is ticked off as "complete" despite the fact that the Friaco Direction on unmetered Internet access has failed to deliver, that real competition over DSL will not be available to consumers until next year, and that UK businesses are still paying above the EU average for leased lines.

The UK does have a lot to be proud of in its progress towards the e-economy. But the main plaudits should go to the businesses and consumers who have stormed into cyberspace regardless of the obstacles.

The danger is that, after this week's bout of self-congratulation, Whitehall will focus more narrowly on the "achievables" of e-government - Internet in libraries, online training and e-procurement. Instead it should address the needs of business for the basics of an e-commerce environment - greater trust, cheaper bandwidth and a solution to the e-skills crisis.

How to do that? Appoint an e-envoy who will speak for business IT users; repeal IR35, scrap the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and spend some of the third generation mobile licence billions on subsidised re-training for those with "legacy" IT skills.

Read more on IT for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)

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