The UK government's much-vaunted Information Society Initiative, launched in 1996 to promote the appropriate use of information and communication technology, has been given a makeover and relaunched as UK Online for Business.
Despite the fact that it is effectively a rebranding of a previous government initiative, UK Online is being presented largely as if it were an entirely new scheme. It has three main areas of concern: getting people online, getting business online and getting government online.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "There is a revolution going on in our economy. A fundamental change, not a dotcom fad, but a real transformation towards a knowledge economy." However, he warned: "Although the UK has surged forward and is leading in some key areas, we still lag in others."
The Business initiative within UK Online has £10m in backing for the first year plus an extra £15m during the next two years, and aims to help companies with advice in a variety of ways - face-to-face, online or by telephone. It has free documents giving advice available on the site, and is looking for smaller companies which have taken advantage of New Economy opportunities to act as reference sites.
At the same time as the launch of UK Online, the government released figures to support its contention that its online initiatives have so far been relatively successful. It claims that 1.7 million smaller companies are now connected to the internet - significantly more than its 1998 projection of getting 1.5 million businesses online by 2002.
The government also claims that 90 per cent of employees now work for organisations with an internet connection of some sort and a third work in companies that trade online. It estimates that one third of the UK population is now online, and that we spent some £2bn online last year - making us the largest ecommerce market in Europe.
There is also expected to be a long-term effect on small businesses arising from a new Performance and Innovation Unit report on e-government, which has recommended getting all key government services online by 2005 (well ahead of the previously stated goal of 2007). Smaller companies may eventually be expected to file tax returns, VAT receipts and other statutory reporting over the internet.
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