Government fears digital divide is growing

The gap between the information haves and have-nots is again rearing its ugly head - this time in the business world

The UK already suffers from a consumer digital divide but Tuesday the government highlighted another one -- this time in the realm of business.

At the Local Government Association's Economic Regeneration Conference in Liverpool, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) secretary Stephen Byers admits that "serious disparities" exist in e-commerce capability between businesses across the UK Tuesday. New figures from the DTI's International Benchmarking Study 2000 reveal an increasing digital divide amongst British businesses trading online.

While London has 33 percent of its businesses equipped for e-commerce, the North East and West Midlands only have 23 percent of their businesses online. The study also showed that 96 percent of businesses in London have Internet access, compared to 82 percent in the North East.

Byers acknowledges that in order to compete in the modern economy, the UK needs a much higher proportion of businesses in every region to be trading online. "We need to pay particular attention to those regions where the uptake is lowest," he said. He added that action must be taken at a local level in order to prevent the worsening of the divide.

The conference was used to reiterate the government's pledge to employ 100 "enterprise envoys" to advise new and established businesses on their uptake of e-commerce. The Cabinet Office is currently looking for its own e-envoy -- the civil servant who will oversee the wiring of UK firms and attempt to bridge the digital divide. The government has come under industry pressure to speed up its search following the resignation of Alex Allan.

In September the government launched UK Online, a campaign to get all businesses online by 2005. E-minister Patricia Hewitt announced a £5.5m incubator fund to be targeted at deprived areas of the country in order to encourage the development of new Internet businesses. Companies need to use external email frequently, have a Web site, or use Electronic Data Interchange in order to qualify under DTI rules as an online business.

For complete business coverage, see ZDNet UK's Enterprise Channel.

Our Government has latched on to the "digital divide" as being an issue that surely everyone wants to solve and therefore is safe political territory. Rubbish says Andy Redfern. The digital divide is actually caused by poverty. Go to AnchorDesk UK for news comment.

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