David Svendsen, the head of Microsoft UK, has attacked the government's record on ecommerce policy and also criticised UK business for ignoring online opportunities.
Speaking at Internet World UK 99 in London, Svendsen pointed a finger at UK productivity which is 20 per cent to 40 per cent behind the US and other European countries, "and the gap is not closing," he said.
"Electronic commerce should be, could be the greatest opportunity ever for British business and the UK economy to rebuild long term commercial and economic success," said Svendsen.
"But if we don't move quickly to provide the right environment for electronic commerce in this country, the UK is going to be painfully behind the curve. And once that happens, we will never, ever catch up. This could be our last chance."
Among his specific criticisms, Svendsen referred to the government's snail-like apporach in sorting issues that face the rapidly changing net industry. In particular, he pointed to the difficulties in bringing out the Electronic Commerce Bill and the government's alleged attempts to control the Internet. Even the promise to deliver all government services by 2008 was "three years too late," said Svendsen.
Svendsen urged the government to lead by example. "This means adopting ecommerce strategies for the business of national and local government and making it easy for citizens to transact their personal business with government departments and agencies," he said.
Svendsen said he would like to see the government with "its foot firmly on the accelerator" as far as the Electronic Commerce Bill goes. "Because time is not on our side," he explained. The Government hopes to have the Bill finalised by spring 2000.
"Government should make sure that any regulation is truly technology neutral, and should leave standard setting to the Internet community and industry," Svendsen said. "They can respond much more quickly to new technologies and new ways of doing business than regulators ever could".
Svendsen said he was not worried about large companies getting online because they have strategies in hand. "Perhaps the biggest issue is the continued reluctance of smaller UK businesses to embrace IT," he said. "The smaller they are, the less enthusiastic they are." Around 30 per cent of smaller businesses are seen as being "indifferent or uncertain" about digital technologies.
A big hurdle is the lack of critical mass for consumers, according to Svendsen. He urged the government to drive consumers to use PC and the Internet. "Getting electronic commerce off the ground is a bit chicken and egg. You need to have a critical mass of homes and businesses wired; you need people skilled; and you need the applications out there for them to use," he explained.
Svendsen suggested that the government look at tax relief on consumers buying PCs for the home and consider reducing VAT rates on electronic transactions.
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