Government funds new dot-com drive

Labour initiative aims to move firms from brochure-like Web sites to competitive e-commerce

In an effort to help small and medium-sized firms embrace online business the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) have embarked upon a Public Private Partnership to set up so-called eBusiness Clubs.

The clubs are intended to support firms in the transition from a token "brochure-like" Web presence to a fully functioning online business. The private part of the collaboration includes BT, HP, Cisco, Intel and Lloyds TSB. The initiative arrives at a time when the dot-com industry has been sapped by a prolonged downturn in the high-tech sector.

"It's a testing time (for business) in the UK at the moment" said the minister for e-commerce, Douglas Alexander. There are currently 1.9 million small businesses exploiting IT but "some businesses still see technology as a threat," he said.

The availability of broadband is one of the stumbling blocks preventing smaller companies committing to e-business, Alexander said, and the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) will be working with BT and other online service providers to bring down the price and increase the coverage of broadband throughout the UK. "We want to see the prices coming down;we must not use the lack of broadband as an excuse," he said.

So far there are 16 eBusiness clubs meeting once a month to share best practices. Companies must be given the message that by adopting e-business they can "save time, make more money and save more money," said the minister.

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