E-minister launches e-commerce awards

£30,000 on offer for top UK e-business team

E-minister Patricia Hewitt launched a government-backed e-commerce award Tuesday in an effort to convince small businesses to get online.

The awards have been set up by the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and e-commerce campaign group InterForum to reward best practice amongst the UK's small business community. A cash prize of £30,000 is on offer for the winner.

Speaking at the launch, Hewitt pledged to get 1.5 million small businesses online within the next two years. "We are committed to making the UK the best place in the world for electronic commerce by 2002. Small and medium sized firms play a vital role in achieving this target," she said.

According to Duncan Mansfield, owner of e-commerce award winning firm Mansfield Motors, government effort is irrelevant to getting firms online. "It is nothing to do with government. The Internet is a small businessman's paradise," he said. Mansfield -- who runs an auto parts firm -- went online two years ago and has since increased profits by 30 percent. "Two years ago we just traded within a 25 mile radius. Now we deliver worldwide," he said. He advises small businesses to get online as quickly as possible -- and be prepared to spend money. "Spend as much as you possibly can on Website design. I spent £20,000," he said.

Chris Threlfall, managing director of printing business Reedform -- another previous winner of the award -- believes small firms need to be prepared to take a risk on e-commerce. "We invested £50,000 and we didn't know if it would be of any benefit or not," he said. He agrees that the pace of progress the Internet makes possible might be keeping the government awake at night. "Things are moving very fast and the Internet will have a dramatic effect on the economy in ways we can't foresee. That must be worrying for them [the government]," he said.

The government's e-communication bill -- which it regards as the cornerstone of its e-commerce policy -- had its second reading in parliament today. It is hoped it will be the first ever act of parliament to be ratified with a digital signature from the monarch.

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