Firms ask government for more help getting online

Nearly half of small businesses surveyed were unhappy with government commitment to wiring SMEs

As the government calls on small businesses to embrace the Web, small businesses hit back, claiming the government is not doing enough to help them get online.

At the World Human Resource Conference in London Tuesday Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett warns small businesses they will lose out in the new economy if they fail to get online, at the risk of creating a digital divide in business.

Blunkett reiterates the government's commitment to technology, highlighting the tax breaks given to small businesses by the chancellor Gordon Brown in last month's budget and a £25 million training scheme to give job seekers basic computer training.

The Employment Secretary also launches a government-funded online business forum to allow small firms to share ideas and Web strategies.

In the same week, MORI publishes research showing that nearly half of the 500 small businesses surveyed were unhappy with government commitment to wiring SMEs. According to MORI researcher Alnoor Samji such companies look to the government for guidance. "They may need reassurance about security and help in terms of developing training and skills," he says, although he points out attitudes may have changed since the budget.

A spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) confirms this. "The loop is being closed following the 100 percent tax break from the chancellor," he says. In this, businesses can claim back money spent on IT equipment. However there is still more the government can do. "Firms need more information to demystify their concerns. With worries over fraud, the government could act as guarantor in tandem with the banks," the spokesman recommends.

He also calls for the Lord Chancellor's department to give small firms cheaper access to e-commerce lawyers to clarify the legal minefield that goes with online trading.

With 80 percent of small firms having customers and suppliers within a 50 mile radius, the relevance of the Web may not be immediately obvious. But unless firms have the capability to trade and exchange contracts electronically they will lose out the FSB warns.

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