Government a 'roadblock' to IT success

Whitehall has too many Luddites who don't understand the knowledge economy, says Intellect's director general, and frankly we need them like a hole in the road

Legislation designed to ease the pain of roadworks was singled out on Tuesday as an example of how the government's inability to 'get' IT is harming technology in the UK.

Delivering his keynote address to the UK Technology Partnering and Investment Forum, John Higgins, director general of trade body Intellect, highlighted the issue as an illustration of the effects of what he said is a widespread perception in Whitehall of the knowledge economy being "little more than a high-tech scam".

The knowledge economy is one of the key campaigns that Intellect is currently running, and has been briefing the government on.

"The argument we were making was it needs to be managed in the same way as any other economy. We tend to get a good hearing from the DTI, but other agencies are wary, and think the knowledge economy is just another scam from high-tech industry. It is important that we make the point that the knowledge economy is different from the regular economy and there are a different set of policies you need to put in place," Higgins told the conference.

One example, said Higgins, is the impact that roads legislation is having on broadband rollout. "Nobody gave a thought to this," he said. "If the government had a policy of looking at the effect of such laws on the knowledge economy first, that is one of the things that would have been flagged up."

The Traffic Management Bill has received widespread condemnation from the broadband industry. In a letter to The Times, telecoms operators said that although they support the Government's intentions behind the Bill, it risks "inadvertently imposing excessive regulation with a Bill that underestimates the contribution made by telecommunications companies to businesses, consumers and the UK economy."

The telcos also wrote to Alistair Darling, the secretary of state for transport, to express their hope that the government will balance the needs of road transport and e-commerce, "before it risks undermining the UK's economic growth and international competitiveness".

Among the problems cited with the Bill was the fact that it calls for penalties for the late completion of utilities' works but not works carried out by the Highways Agency or local authorities. "Surely, if it is right for the private sector, it is also right for the public sector," said the telcos, who asserted that measures in the Bill tip the balance against the industry and its long-term ability to invest in infrastructure.

The UK Technology Partnering and Investment Forum is run by the European Technology Forum, which is owned by CNET Networks UK, the publishers of ZDNet UK.