UK 'unlikely' to meet online target for SMEs

The British Chamber of Commerce has advised the government to scrap its goal of having all small British businesses trading online by 2002

The government is failing in its target to get one million businesses trading online by 2002, according to a report published by the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) on Monday.

With little more than half a million micro, small and medium-sized businesses trading online at present, the BCC e-business taskforce has dismissed the government goal for 2002 as "unlikely". The report was presented to e-Commerce minister Douglas Alexander on Monday, and suggests that the target should be scrapped in favour of tackling cybercrime, improving access to broadband services and boosting public confidence in e-commerce.

"British companies are not in the business of fulfilling aspirational targets set by any government," said Sally Low, e-business policy advisor at the British Chambers of Commerce. "The role of government should be one of enabling business in the most efficient and effective manner, and not to preoccupy itself with assessing and measuring targets."

Recent statistics from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Business in the Information Age 2001, Benchmarking Study show that only 540,000 British firms are trading online. The data suggested that business take-up of e-commerce has levelled off, with the number of small businesses ordering online falling from 64,000 to 40,000 in the last year.

"The primary target is to get companies up the e-adoption ladder -- these targets are challenging, but were set as a benchmark that we can strive towards," said a DTI spokesperson. The benchmark is a set target that measures how many British companies are trading online -- meaning they have a Web site, use email frequently and use electronic data interchange -- in comparison with other countries, including the US, Canada and Germany.

The Chamber's report also recommends the removal of the controversial IR35 regulation, in favour of working more closely with businesses to define tax obligations for self-employed contractors.

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