Prime Minister Tony Blair has launched a campaign to get people, business and Government itself online. The initiative, called UK Online, is aimed at ensuring the country’s economy does not fall into two segments.
“There is no new economy. There is one economy, all of it being transformed by information technology,” he said. “What is happening is no dot.com fad that will come and go - it is a profound economic revolution.”
“So, today, I am announcing a new campaign. Its goal is to get the UK on-line. To meet the three stretching targets we have set: for Britain to be the best place in the world for e-commerce, with universal access to the Internet and all Government services on the net. In short, the UK on-line campaign aims to get business, people and government on-line.”
The prime minister also announced the first raft of 600 community-based online centres to give hi-tech access to poorer communities. The new centres are aimed at helping the homeless and jobless rejoin society. The aim is for 6000 online centres, with access in public libraries and post offices.
Mr Blair underlined his determination that by 2005, all government services should be online. One billion pounds will be invested in the project over the next three years. Soon the unemployed will be able to search online for jobs, from home or in a JobCentre kiosk.
Later this Autumn, learndirect will open for business. Everyone will be able to use it, from a computer at work or at home, or in one of the 1,000 centres to be opened by April. By 2002, learndirect aims to be providing 1 million courses a year.
UK online for business is backed with £10 million this year and an additional £15 million over the next two years. It will help companies exploit new technologies by providing expert advice.
The first partners in the drive to make Britain a leading knowledge economy include the CBI, the TUC, the IOD, the Consumers Association and major businesses, from BT to the Royal Bank of Scotland, from Microsoft to the BBC.
The Prime Minister also launched the Government’s UK online annual report, showing that Britain is catching up in the world’s e-commerce race:
• Government targets to get small businesses online have been smashed with 1.7 million now connected. A target to one-and-a-half million in 2002 has been reached two years early.
• 90% of employees work in businesses which are connected to the Internet – on a par with the US.
• One-third work in companies which trade online – a higher proportion than in the US, Sweden, Germany, France, Japan or Canada.
• One third of the UK population is now online, widening the UK’s lead over the other major European economies.
• Britain now has Europe’s largest e-commerce market – spending £2 billion on-line last year, and narrowing the gap with the US. UK e-commerce expenditure grew by 350% last year, compared with 70% in the US.
Welcoming this progress, the Prime Minister added, “But we cannot afford to slow down. Although the UK has surged forward and is leading in some key areas, we still lag in others.”
E-minister Patricia Hewitt said: “Our UK online strategy is about putting the UK in pole position in the global knowledge economy. We are delighted to have the support of so many influential partners in driving it forward.
“They are already making invaluable contributions: raising awareness of the opportunities; opening up their in-house IT facilities to the local community; building the self-regulatory systems which will help global e-commerce markets work better. By joining together in the UK online campaign, we can jointly achieve even more.”
Pilot projects have been running since January.