PM moves to Internet time - critics sceptical

"The government does not yet fully comprehend the implications of the Internet" says Labour head of the all-party Internet group.

Prime Minister Tony Blair admits Monday he has made a mistake about the pace of the Internet revolution as critics question government commitment to e-commerce and the Net.

In an article in the Guardian newspaper, the PM admits he was mistaken about the pace of digital change, referring to the need for government to think in Internet years rather than calendar years. He promises government will take the lead in creating a stable market for e-commerce, providing technology skills for everyone and setting an example with e-government.

But not everyone is convinced the government is throwing away Whitehall time to work in Internet years. "I don't think the government yet fully comprehends the implications of the Internet," says Derek Wyatt, Labour MP and head of the all-party Internet group. "The Internet threatens the very existence of the civil service. In an e-friendly government it is obvious that not as many civil servants are needed. The government wants to contain this revolution."

A spokesman for Sun Microsytems is also critical. "Everything needs to move faster. Patricia Hewitt is taking too narrow a view. It is not just about the cost of local access but freeing up bandwidth with the auction of radio spectrum, which has suffered several delays," he says.

The DTI defends its new e-Minister from criticisms she does not have the full political clout of a Cabinet minister. "The Prime Minister has chosen Patricia Hewitt to lead his e-commerce revolution and she reports directly to him," a spokesman says. The spokesman admits that the Internet and e-commerce issues need to be resolved more quickly. "We all agree that we need to think in terms of Internet years not parliamentary years and it is Patricia's job to push forward that agenda," he says.

As part of its drive to ensure everyone has access to technology skills, the government will launch seven IT learning centres -- dubbed e-libraries -- Friday. It is part of a £650m programme to put skills centres in the poorest areas of the UK. The PM will demonstrate his own lack of computer skills as he takes part in a two-hour word processing and Internet skills session in a shopping centre in the North-East of England.