Select Committee on Trade and Industry First Special Report



 Annual Report

(A) It is not a promising symptom of the attitude of Government to the digital divide that such a key document as the e-Minister and e-Envoy's first Annual Report should not have been made more readily available in paper form as well as electronically. We recommend that future annual reports be made available in paper, when the House is sitting (paragraph 8).

The Government accepts that future UK Online Annual Reports are of sufficient general interest to warrant publication in hard-copy paper form, as well as electronically. The Government also accepts that future Annual Reports should be published when the House is sitting.

It should be noted that a summary of the Annual Report 2000, accompanied with a full version on CD-ROM, was widely distributed. In addition, as is now made clear on the OeE website, full paper copies of the report can be requested from the Office of the e-Envoy. A downloadable version of the full report, in Microsoft Word format, is also available on the Office of the e-Envoy website.

Need for analysis

(b)A major effort to bring the reality of the promise of public and private e-business within and outside Government is now underway. We commend to other departmental committees the 65 commitments in the September 2000 Report as a rich seam, which we suspect would benefit from further scrutiny.



(c)It is only too evident that what we feared has come to pass; that the e-Envoy has been absorbed into the machinery of Whitehall and is now an adjunct of the e-Minister. We are concerned at this mini-empire growing up in the shadow of the e-Envoy. The assurances given in October 1999 in response to our July 1999 Report that the e-Envoy would not be responsible for implementation seem to have been overlooked. The promotion of UK electronic business seems to have fallen by the wayside. The broad and critical view taken in the 1999 PIU Report has been replaced by the language of Whitehall. We greatly fear that the original concept of the e-Envoy has been captured, tamed and bureaucratised into an e-official planted in an e-office, no doubt full of activity but caught between being an agency of implementation and a powerhouse of ideas. It is not too late for a rethink of the scale and nature of the Office, nor of the role of the e-Envoy (paragraphs 7 and 10).

Not accepted. Recommendation 14.2 of the PIU's report stated that: "The Government should appoint an 'e-envoy' with a wider remit than originally proposed, covering both e-commerce and the IT elements of the Modernising Government White Paper. The e-envoy should be a high-level champion for Information Age issues across Government, based in the Cabinet Office with a direct link to the Prime Minister." The report also recommended that the e-Envoy "should have a direct link to the Prime Minister, whilst reporting on a day-to-day basis through the e-Minister and the Minister for e-Government as appropriate."

This is, and will continue to be, the position of the e-Envoy within Whitehall.

The report went on to identify five key themes that should provide the focus for the work of the e-envoy:

    "- e-business - galvanising UK business, at all levels, to recognise the opportunities and threats implicit in e-commerce. A particular focus on under-performing small and micro enterprises would be essential;

    - e-Government - providing strategic input to the development of the Information Age Government agenda set out in the Modernising Government White Paper. Developing synergies between private and public sectors, including the role of Government as an exemplar of the use of e-commerce through its own procurement and as the deliverer of e-Government services at national, regional and local level;

    - promoting the UK strategy abroad - providing the consistent drive in taking forward the UK's Information Age objectives in international fora;

    - e-inclusion - maintaining the push to ensure that the benefits of e-commerce and e-Government are available to all sections of society, including those with disabilities and the marginalised; and

    - programme management - ensuring effective co-ordination of Government activities, including implementation of the full programme of actions recommended by this Report; monitoring progress against the overall objectives for e-commerce and e-Government, keeping strategies under regular and probing review in the light of developments (international, technological, commercial and legal); and identifying key medium-term strategic challenges for the Government arising from new information and communication technologies."

The e-Envoy and his Office continue to be guided by these five main themes. In particular, we do not accept that "promotion of electronic business seems to have fallen by the way side". Since the first e-Envoy was appointed, the Government has committed over £100 million to help businesses get engaged in and reap the benefits from e-business. The Office of the e-Envoy played a key role in building the case for this investment and continues to be closely involved in policy development on e-business.

Nor do we accept that the Office of the e-Envoy is "caught between being an agency of implementation and a powerhouse of ideas." It is the latter. Undertaking that role effectively can involve a limited role as an implementer of cross-Government technical projects where these are of key strategic importance and where no other immediate base exists, such as the UK online Citizen Portal and the Government Gateway. However, in such cases there will be a clear 'exit strategy' once projects are fully operational. This will be applied to the UK online Citizen Portal, the Knowledge Network and the Government Gateway, which will be moved into separate units.

As of 1 July, operational responsibility for the UK Online Citizen Portal, the Government Gateway and the Knowledge Network rests within a discrete e-Delivery Unit. We will shortly advertise for a Chief Executive for this Unit, to report directly to the e-Envoy.

Secondary Legislation

(d) Although nobody could describe the intended output of secondary legislation arising from section 8 of the Electronic Communications Act as dramatic in its scale or scope, there are a number of proposals out for consultation which if they come to fruition could have genuinely beneficial effects. We recommend that departments which have not identified any need for secondary legislation to allow for electronic signatures be asked for evidence of the nature of their inquiries, that the target for completing the orders set out in the May 2000 written answer be revised to 100% achievement, and that a second tranche of orders be brought forward as soon as possible (paragraphs 13 and 14).

Not accepted. The Government notes the Committee's comments about the real significance of some of the issues (such as electronic conveyancing, electronic authentication of records for legal purposes and electronic communications between companies and shareholders) included in the list of 11 possible items of secondary legislation published in the written answer of 24 May 2000; and the genuinely beneficial effects of some of the proposals currently out for consultation, including further proposals identified since the written answer.

The Government is continuing to add to the list, as additional potential orders under section 8 of the Electronic Communications Act are identified by departments in the course of the further development of their e-business strategies. Of the 40,000-odd statutory references to writing, signature and similar terms, the Government intends to give priority to updating those for which electronic communication or storage is an important element in delivering departments' e-business strategies; those for which such updating would help to remove barriers to e-commerce; or where it would facilitate departments' normal business processes.

Examples of subjects of orders proposed or made to achieve these aims are respectively electronic conveyancing; the conclusion of a regulated credit agreement by electronic means; and electronic communication between DTLR and local authorities on housing revenue account subsidies, as facilitated by The Local Government and Housing Act 1989 (Electronic Communications) (England) Order 2000.

In this context the Government does not accept that it would be justifiable for departments to be asked for evidence of the nature of their inquiries into the need for secondary legislation to allow for electronic signatures. The Government does not regard the making of section 8 orders as an end in itself, but a means to the end of making particular services available electronically or removing specific barriers to electronic commerce. They become time-critical only at the point when they are on the critical path for a wider business process change.

The Government would not consider it realistic to revise the target for passage of the measures referred to in the May 2000 written answer to 100% achievement by the end of 2001. At least three of the orders referred to in the May 2000 written answer (the order to facilitate electronic conveyancing, and the amendment of the Documentary Evidence Acts 1868 to 1895 and of the Statutory Instruments Act 1946 and associated Regulations) are intended to be made by the affirmative resolution procedure. It is unlikely that any of these three orders, which deal with subjects involving difficult technical, procedural and legal issues, will be laid before Parliament before the summer recess. Given the pressures on Parliamentary time, all three orders could not be guaranteed to complete the required Parliamentary procedures and be made by the end of 2001.

The Government therefore proposes to retain the target of the passage of 8 orders (equivalent to 70% of the eleven measures referred to in the May 2000 written answer) by the end of 2001. Further orders in addition to those listed in the May 2000 written answer are likely to be made in 2001. The Office of the e-Envoy will continue to pursue and monitor progress on the delivery of section 8 orders across Government, but departments' evolving e-business strategies may affect the priority and hence the timing of the particular orders specified in the written answer of May 2000.

It is not proposed to divert departments' resources at this stage to identifying a "second tranche" of orders. As the Committee has noted, there have been further proposals in the past few months; and still more will be identified, as stated above, in the further development of departments' e-business strategies. The Government has already accepted in January 2000 the Committee's recommendation that, having identified immediate priorities, departments publish within two years details of all the outdated statutory definitions of words such as "writing" and "signature" they intend to update to take account of new information and communications technologies and timetables for action.

Trusted Service Providers and tScheme

(e) Much Parliamentary time has been devoted to the question of regulation of approvals for Trusted Service Providers. We would welcome a detailed progress report on the tScheme in response to this Report.

Accepted. The Office of the e-Envoy and the Department of Trade and Industry will be happy to produce such a report by the autumn of this year.

Interception Regime

(f) There is a general interest in helping ensure that the internet is both secure from attack and not used for criminal purposes. We welcome continuing reporting of progress through the monthly implementation reports, and recommend that the next Annual Report reveal practical examples of the benefits of the changes introduced in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (paragraph 17)

Accepted. The Government welcomes the Committee's recognition of the importance of seeking to help ensure that the Internet is secure and not used for criminal purposes. As the Committee knows, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) is an important element of the Government's approach to this. We will continue to report on the implementation of RIPA's provisions. And in the next Annual Report, we will, so far as is compatible with the terms of the Act itself and the continued effectiveness of the investigative techniques it regulates, seek to outline the benefits that RIPA has brought about.


(g) The success of the new regulatory structure proposed in the Communications White Paper will to a great measure be judged by the extent to which it is able to ensure a more transparent and competitive electronic market place. Ministers and the regulator must continue to concentrate on creating the right infrastructure and on opening up competition in a number of areas so that other e-initiatives do not run into the roadblock of most people finding the electronic world inaccessible on terms they can afford and under conditions which suit them (paragraphs 18 and 24).

Not accepted. Whilst Government has a role to play in facilitating affordable access to infrastructure, the regulator must concentrate on creating the right market structure within which a range of choices become available in response to demand. One of the aims of the Communications White Paper was 'to make the UK home to the most dynamic and competitive communications and media market in the world' (paragraph 1.2.1). Clearly regulation to enable effective competition is a vital step in achieving that aim. Oftel has done a good job in sometimes difficult circumstances in enabling competition in all areas of the market. This resulted in substantial price falls for basic Internet access and more advanced services. OFCOM will have increased powers to continue this good work. We shall bring forward further details at the earliest opportunity to give effect to White Paper proposals.


(h) The evidence does not suggest that regulation is holding back e-commerce. There is however a strong perception that it could; this requires dispelling. We trust that some positive effort will indeed be devoted to that end, as recommended by the Better Regulation Task Force (paragraph 28).

Accepted. The Government response to the Better Regulation Task Force report "Regulating Cyberspace - Better Regulation for e-Commerce" has been published ( The Government recognises the need to address confusion amongst businesses about how regulation applies to them and accepts the Task Force's key recommendation on providing guidance to business about the domestic and international regulatory framework for e-commerce.

As stated in the response to the Better Regulation Task Force report, the Government is committed to building on what has already been achieved to ensure that information, guidance and advice on the regulatory framework is clear and accessible. The UK online for business programme provides businesses with impartial and jargon-free advice. This advice is delivered face-to-face through a network of local advisers, on the telephone via a national contact centre and via the Small Business Service businesslink website (

The Government's aim is for the businesslink website to become a focal point for the delivery of Government advice to small and medium sized businesses. The businesslink website will provide access to the best guidance and advice, including on regulatory issues, in the easiest format, and will link to other Government Departments' sites. The advice provided via the website will be developed and expanded on an on-going basis.

An advertising and mailing campaign was carried out in November 2000, to raise awareness of the UK online for business programme following rebranding of the service. The Government is looking to further increase business use of the service through a renewed marketing campaign which started in February this year.

The Task Force report pointed out that rules governing jurisdiction and choice of law for international consumer contract disputes for internet transactions were of particular concern to businesses, especially smaller ones, and recommended that Government should provide clear and simple advice on these issues. The Government accepted this recommendation and has committed to provide advice on the provisions of the Brussels Convention (on jurisdiction) and the Rome Convention (on applicable law) and the position with non-EU countries . This guidance is expected to be published this Summer. The European Community Regulation on jurisdiction will replace the Brussels Convention and will come into force in March 2002. The Government will produce guidance on the new rules by September 2001.


(i) We record the abolition of betting tax as one of the first fiscal casualties of electronic commerce. We look to the next Annual Report to give a full critical commentary on the developments in the taxation policy area (paragraphs 32 and 33).

Paragraph 32: Not accepted. Following consultation the Government replaced General Betting Duty with a Gross Profits Tax to maintain a thriving bookmaking and racing industry in the UK in response to the growth in offshore betting. The Government is confident that this reform will help provide the right competitive environment for the UK betting industry to take advantage of e-commerce opportunities and will contribute to progress towards the target of making the UK the best place in the world to do e-commerce.

Paragraph 33: Accepted. The Government continues to play a leading role in identifying and implementing technological solutions for VAT on e-commerce. In the OECD, the UK is in the lead on a task group to identify a framework under which a tax collection mechanism could account for consumption taxes, thus easing the burdens on business and providing assurance for the collection of VAT.

In the EU, negotiations continue to find a solution that creates a level playing field for VAT, eases the burdens on business and can be successfully applied in an international environment.

The next UK Online Annual report will provide an update on the taxation developments relevant to e-commerce.


(j) We are not established to conduct a detailed assessment of the reality behind the fulfillment of targets across government departments, nor to take in the flood of real or electronic documents on e-government. There is still a slight whiff of unreality in the electronic government agenda. We had hoped that the e-Envoy as originally envisaged might provide an objective analysis of such an issue, from outside the machinery of Government. It is a task which some element of the select committee system may feel obliged to take up in the new Parliament (paragraph 38).

Not accepted. The Government does not accept that there is a whiff of unreality about the e-government agenda. Substantial progress has already been made towards the target of putting all services online by 2005, with significant additional investment through the knowledge economy review which formed part of the 2000 Spending Review and through the Capital Modernisation Fund and Invest to Save Budget.

Progress towards the 2005 target is measured in terms of the proportion of key services which are fully electronically enabled. Many of the services now available are primarily about making information available in a more accessible way and one which is better targeted on the needs of service users. Already though, there are a number of significant transactional services, and the proportion of services which are fully transactional will increase steadily towards 2005.

The latest findings, based on the autumn 2000 survey of departments, show that for the whole of government there are 521 services to the citizen or business. For electronic delivery of these services:

218 services are enabled now (42%)
384 services will be enabled by 2002 (73%)
517 services will be enabled by 2005(>99%)

The government has also developed two major projects which bring together its online services. The UK online Citizen Portal which went live in December 2000 not only provides a single access point to over a thousand government websites, but is also showing the way forward by organising key services in 'life episodes' rather than by government organisation. The Government Gateway which went live in January 2001 provides a secure platform for internet transactions which will eventually support a wide range of transactional services - the first three were launched earlier this year.

All Government departments have produced e-business strategies which have been published on the Internet ( They set out how departments intend to deliver services electronically and demonstrate the increasing importance of e-government in transforming the quality of services offered to individuals and to businesses.

The Office of the e-Envoy led a thorough review of the strategies, the outcome of which was published on 29 March 2001 (copies were placed in the House Library and are available on the Internet at

The Office of the e-Envoy also publishes a six monthly report which monitors the number of services that are enabled for electronic transactions (these are available on the Internet at Progress towards the 2005 target is measured using key services (and other areas of government business which interact with citizens or businesses), which had been enabled for electronic transactions so as to provide an accurate response. The monitoring regime is aligned with Treasury's public service agreements (PSAs) and service delivery agreements (SDAs) to ensure that the electronic service delivery capability targets were viewed in a wider context which also covered encouraging take-up and quality of service.


(K) Given the UK's general commitment to the e-Europe process, there would be value in reporting annually on the achievement at national level of those e-Europe targets not already directly reflected in the UK's own targets (paragraph 42).

Accepted. The Government proposes to develop further the information on the eEurope Action Plan on the Department of Trade and Industry's website. This will summarise all UK national achievements corresponding to the activities allocated by the Action Plan to the Member States. Cross references would be given to further details in the UK Online report and elsewhere as appropriate.

(L) At the end of the day we question what purpose is served in pumping out all these e-targets, most of which are only capable of being met as a result of national policies and practices, or in identifying 'priorities' if they change with each Presidency and represent no more than a dish of the day from an ever longer a la carte menu. It is difficult not to be sceptical about these rather grandiose and flabby plans. They could however offer the opportunity for a member state to assess its own plans against those produced elsewhere. Ideally, somebody should be asking Governments why something can be done in one member state but not in another. National Parliaments are ideally placed to do this. If the e-Europe initiative is not seized upon by Parliaments it will become another initiative doomed to live alongside the bones of other long discarded Declarations. We can but hope that something emerges from Stockholm to give us hope (paragraphs 47 and 48).

Accepted. The eEurope Action Plan is more than just a list of objectives which Member States would be addressing anyway. It is an overarching strategy which aims to bring national activity alongside that of the Commission and the private sector, improve coherence, and inject a sense of urgency. The Lisbon Summit expected that it would accelerate the benefits of economic growth by stimulating information society initiatives across the Union. The Government agrees that risks attach to the management of such a wide ranging plan, but draws the Committee's attention to the fact that it clearly allocates targets and responsibilities for meeting them, and all within a short period up to end 2002.

The Government agrees that the Action Plan must stimulate comparisons between achievements in different parts of the Union. Done properly, the monitoring and benchmarking of eEurope activity will produce the basis for the exchange of experience and peer pressure that is at the heart of the Lisbon Summit's emphasis on the "open method of coordination". The Government welcomes the Committee's interest and agrees that national parliaments should be among the key forums where the results should be considered.

The Government shares the Committee's concern that the success of the eEurope Action Plan could be deflected by the frequent introduction of new activities or changed priorities. Although the Plan as such has not changed, the Stockholm European Council produced commitment to pursue a number of horizontal priorities on top of the Plan (eg "a supportive policy framework for third-generation mobile communications"; "a comprehensive strategy on security of electronic networks"). The Government will continue to encourage the Member States, the Commission and private sector to focus on achieving the fundamental objectives set out in the eEurope Action Plan. However, it will also take a full part in the development of other coherent policies on information society issues in the Union as they arise, with a view to securing their correct treatment in any successor to the eEurope Action Plan 2002.

Digital Divide: Programmes

(m) Two years after the announcement that 100,000 low income families would be receiving and paying for recycled computers, it seems that only a third of that number have received them, within the last few months (paragraph 56).

Accepted. Computers within Reach has been slow to get off the ground, but it is a pilot scheme and it was always intended that each phase would learn the lessons from previous phases. The target for the first phase was 35,000 computers. This has not yet been met but DFES are working with the contractors to resolve difficulties particularly over the supply of computers.

(n)If the Wired Up Communities programme is to prove of any value it can only be if the level of expenditure and effort needed to produce worthwhile results stands any chance of being replicated on a national scale (paragraph 57).

Accepted. Wired up Communities, although a pilot, is a major initiative - a £10 million programme - with nearly 14,000 homes in seven communities across England, forming one of the country's largest pilot programmes to explore the effect computers have on people's lives.

It has always been intended that the pilots should be fully evaluated before deciding whether or not to roll the initiative out more widely. Evaluation results are due in March 2002 and once these are available we will consider how best to take this forward.

As the report indicates, pilots only make sense where they are trialled on the basis that there will be further funding should the pilots prove successful. That is indeed the case here. At the UK Internet Summit on 11 October 2000, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said "A high unemployed area (Liverpool) will therefore be the first to benefit from the most modern of technology, with not just some, but everyone, equipped for the challenges of the future. This is only the first of seven pilots in a project that if successful we will attempt to extend to many more areas which need it. The principle behind it - that no-one should be excluded from the benefits of the IT revolution, and that the digital divide can be bridged".

A further £5m has also been allocated to be spent on schools in the Wired Up Communities pilots through the National e-Learning Foundation so that the notion of a truly "connected community" can be evaluated.

Digital Divide: General

(o) Some programmes seem to be designed to make a real difference. Others are evidently a drop in the ocean; they are either pilots which seek to prove that further expenditure is justified, or futile gestures. These initiatives and centres and development programmes do not amount to a strategy to overcome the digital divide between old and young, rich and poor, urban and rural. In the context of the scale of the digital divide, they look like woefully inadequate gestures. Millions of people are excluded, not the thousands reached so far by these initiatives. We hope that the e-Envoy will be given time to look up from the world of e-Whitehall and take a holistic view of the divide. His first priority must be to bridge that gap with a rounded strategy, based on the experience gained of the rather disparate initiatives of the past few years. We look forward to its presentation in the next Annual Report (paragraphs 55 and 62).

Not accepted. The Government has a clear commitment to ensuring that everyone who wants it will have access to the internet by 2005. The UK Online Report outlines a coherent programme of action to ensure that we meet this goal.

Both Computers within Reach and Wired up Computers address directly the PAT 15 report finding that "the costs of hardware, software and telecommunications services are seen as significant barrier to ICT uptake by those living in deprived neighbourhoods".

DFES recognises the importance of having a strong research base both to understand the difference made by activities that address the digital divide and to inform future policy development. The evaluation of UK online centres and Wired Up Communities are an important part of this approach.

DFES's recently published report into ICT Access and Use provides valuable information on the relative views of and access to ICT across different social groupings. This research will continue and will help to provide an annual benchmark from which to monitor the overall effectiveness of initiatives. DFES is also making use of the ICT data being collated by other research bodies such as the ONS.

A separate study is tracking the impact of the acquisition of ICT skills on peoples lives over a three year period. DFES has also recently established the ICT Research Centre to develop and take forward our future research agenda into ICT access and learning, including deprived areas.

The Department has also initiated activity to inform our activities to support specific groups. For example, three research projects are being commissioned to explore issues around the access to, and attitudes towards, ICT by black and ethnic minority groups. We are also working with to ensure UK online centres understand and can meet the needs of their disabled users.

All this activity will build further upon the research undertaken to support the PAT 15 report Closing the Digital Divide and provides a valuable baseline against which to set policies and initiatives.

The PAT 15 report Closing the Digital Divide set a wide cross-government agenda making recommendations to alleviate the cost of access for those on the lowest incomes, to improve the promotion of the benefits of new technology at the local level, and to encourage more engaging content.

Many significant initiatives are underway which support the recommendations identified in the PAT 15 report. For example, over 1,250 UK online learning centres are now open providing local access to the Internet and e-mail. By the end of 2002 there will be around 6,000 UK online centres providing local access to ICT through community and voluntary organisations as well as existing facilities in colleges and libraries. UK online centres are being targeted at the 2000 most deprived local authority wards and we expect good coverage in the great majority of these

In addition centres are being established in rural areas with significant deprivation and/or transport problems, for example using mobile facilities and in church/village halls.

UK online centres will act as stepping stones to learndirect provision by providing basic ICT skills, and the confidence and motivation to help individuals to progress to further learning. Some UK online centres will also be learndirect centres or access points and offer learndirect provision on site. In addition, all UK online centres have to demonstrate clear links to other local ICT provision such as learndirect centres, schools, colleges and libraries.

Education and Skills

(p) There is an impressive array of educational initiatives and efforts designed to get on top of the ICT training agenda. There remains a massive task. Some of the initiatives would repay closer study than we have given them, perhaps by other departmental select committees; being able to teach Japanese by ICT, for example, may be useful but cannot be at the centre of the nation's educational requirements. We suspect that it is proving harder to reach older people. It would be useful to have some idea of measurable output in the next Annual Report, and to have a European perspective on the UK level of achievement, at all stages of lifelong learning (paragraph 66).

Accepted. The Department for Education and Employment is indeed implementing a wide range of initiatives in order to address the ICT Skills agenda. This is a dynamic and growing area that requires a great deal of flexibility and innovation if we are to meet the needs of the Knowledge Economy.

The recent White Paper "Opportunity for All in a world of change", jointly published between DFES and the DTI, illustrates some of these new measures which are being undertaken in this area - such as the New Technology Institutes which aim to train up to 10,000 people per year from technician 3 level and above to degree level in the use and application of ICT and advanced technologies.

Other relevant measures include the Centres for Vocational Excellence, the Cybrarian project and the New Deal scheme whereby we will be getting 5,000 unemployed individuals into work in the ICT professions over the next three years.

The comment on teaching Japanese seems to show a misunderstanding of the aims of this initiative. Pilots in the use of ICT to deliver courses at Key Stage 3 in Maths, Latin and Japanese have augmented and enhanced the drive to improve standards and to see how ICT could widen access to minority subjects.

These projects support the Governments wider Key Stage 3 strategy and complement a range of other measures to develop educational ICT, all of which also widen access. Pilot projects in the use of digital TV for education and GridClub for 7-11 year olds support independent learners and out of school provision. Projects such as Notschool net aim to provide ICT support for learning by excluded pupils and the development of an inclusion site on the NGfL makes learning resources available to meet a wide range of special needs.

We are well aware of need to reach more older people, and have been successful in increasing participation among this group, for example around 135,000 people over 50 took at least one ICT Further Education course in 1999-2000

IT skills for the workplace is one of University for Industry's initial priorities and they are offering and developing a range of on-line learning materials. Over 400 courses are already available online including materials aimed at developing ICT skills in the workplace.

UK online centres are providing a quick, easy and cheap and convenient initial gateway to pursuing ICT skills. The centres are being set up to provide an easy migration from this initial familiarisation with the new technologies to the acquisition of more complex skills through learndirect.

The need to tie all these initiatives more closely to measurable output is accepted, and the next Annual Report will include this. With regard to the European perspective, many comparative EU documents already exist; we will be happy to supply copies to Committee members if they wish, and will put information on performance against targets in a European context in future Annual Reports. In addition, the UK is currently represented in a European Commission-led group, and is subject to EU-wide targets for delivering lifelong learning. For example, under the European Employment Strategy, the fifth Employment Guideline calls for member states to ensure that all schools have access to the internet and multimedia resources by the end of 2001, and that all teachers needed are skilled in the use of these technologies by the end of 2002. In response to this guideline, the UK Employment Action Plan 2001 states that by the end of 2000, 86% of primary schools were connected to the internet, and 98% of secondary schools. Of both primary and secondary school teachers, just under 70% felt confident to use ICT in the curriculum.


(q) Consumer confidence in e-commerce and awareness of consumer rights remains low. We would welcome the deployment of the resources of DTI's consumer division, led by the responsible Minister, to publicise the efforts being made to make the electronic marketplace at least as safe a place to buy as the real marketplace, and to consider what more needs to be done (paragraph 69).

Accepted. Information about safe internet shopping is available from many sources, including and We agree however that more needs to be done. DTI will therefore be commissioning research into consumer awareness and the most effective ways of sourcing and delivering information and guidance. The Office of the E-envoy will be examining the need for a more integrated approach to information provision, covering the full range of consumer concerns, such as payment security, data protection, illegal content and redress. In the Autumn DTI will undertake a publicity campaign on safe internet shopping, with further activity in the run up to Christmas.

As the report recognises, other issues are also important to consumer confidence. The Government's strategy includes:

- getting the legal framework right, with emphasis on cross border enforcement co-operation against scams;

- encouraging co-regulation. Now that the launch phase is over, a review of TrustUK is under way and will report in June;

- improving cross border redress, notably EEJ-Net (NB the operational target date is 15 October).

Advice to Business

(r) There is in our view a role here for the Chief Executive of the Small Business Service to examine these support programmes anew and satisfy himself and those who advise him on the Small Business Council that this is the best use of the business support funds available (paragraph 71).

Not accepted. Assuming the recommendation applies solely to paragraph 70 of the report and not the preceding section we do not accept that there is no evidence of SME demand for the service offered. We would respectfully point out that a MORI survey for SBS in Summer 2000 showed that "keeping up with technology" came thirteenth out of a list of forty six areas on which small businesses approached Business Links for advice.

We agree that there is a role for the Chief Executive of the Small Business Service and, indeed, locally delivered UK online for business services are being fully integrated within the new Business Link network in England. The SBS believes that the application of information and communications technology is a fundamental part of business development and a crucial element of its services portfolio which fully justifies the resources used.

The SBS enjoys a close working relationship with other parts of DTI responsible for UK online for business and already plays an active role in reviewing and developing the UK online for business programme in response to customer need and research evidence. The Chief Executive will ensure that the services provided continue to satisfy genuine customer needs, while challenging SMEs to address the opportunities and threats generated by new technology.

We will draw the TIC's recommendation to the attention of the Small Business Council.

Economic Impact

(S) In the absence of an authoritative study, undertaken by those without a vested interest in boosting electronic commerce, strategies designed to increase the volume of electronic commerce run the risk of being counter-productive. We look forward to the early production of an evaluation of the net economic effects of e-commerce (paragraph 72).

Accepted. An evaluation of the net economic impact of e-commerce is important to inform those seeking to implement strategies to boost e-commerce. HMT is committed to conducting an economic impact study and the delayed publication of a report detailing the methodology is not expected to affect the overall timetable for completing the study.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 20 July 2001