The government spokesperson for small businesses, Barbara Roche MP, this week set out the government's agenda for e-commerce with the launch of a glossy, twenty five page document produced by the Department of Trade and Industry called 'net Benefit'.
Roche was speaking at UK Technolgy Week on Tuesday, before jetting off to the OECD conference on electronic commerce, which takes place this week in Ottawa. She said, "There is absolutely no doubt that convergence does herald the beginning of a new digital age. Net benefits sets out our agenda for elecronic commerce in Britain. Elecronic commerce is vital to the creation of tommorrow's Britain. A modern, knowledge-based economny, in which it is important for all businesses to take on the challenges that are coming. We believe very firmly indeed that if we work together this could bring enormous benefits."
The new world order envisaged by Roche is one where the size of organisation is less important. "No longer will we talk about the small, large or medium sized company. We will only talk about those companies who are in rich in intellectual property -- the challenege for the UK both for business and for government is to respond to those challenges, and to convert those challenges into an opportunity".
Roche was very positive about the role of the EU and stressed close cooperation with EU partners as a central plank of the government's approach.
On the DTI's role Roche said, "What we are trying to do as far as the government is concerned, and as far as my department is concerned -- the Department of Trade and industry -- is not just to look at the next few years, but to actually look ahead to the economy as a whole, and to the next century and what that will bring".
Electronic commerce will affect all firms of all sizes said Roche, "It is certainly our aim to promote the uptake in this new technology. And when we talk about getting small companies to use this technology I'm not just talking about the hi-tech, hi-growth firms; I'm talking about all businesses."
Like a true politician, Roche didn't pass up the opportunity of talking up some of the UK's successes. "As far as the UK is concerned we are already in a strong position. A liberalised telecoms market, a regulation system that encourages innovation, and also we are setting the pace in Europe for the provision of the third generation of mobile phones. And Peter Mandelson, our new Secretary of State, has already set the goal for ensuring that by the end of this Parliament the UK is leading the demand for digital technology by both business and individuals. But we mean to have a real partnership with business. We know how important skills are going to be in the next millenium. We need a strong skills base. All the initiatives that we've taken our skills task force, university for industry, very much working with business in partnership."
'The Silicon Valley experience' is one in which the academic, financial, and business world work very much in harmony and the UK should learn from this example, said Roche. The major challenges that she sees for politicians are to overcome regulatory problems, set a taxation framework for international online trade, provide consumer protection, intellectual rights protection, and establish cooperation between governments to deliver all these things. "The challenge for politicians is always to be anticipating where the technology is going to take us." A The new world order envisaged by Roche is one where the size of organisation is less important. "No longer will we talk about the small, large or medium sized company. We will only talk about those companies who are in rich in intellectual prproperty. The challenege for the UK both for business and for government is to respond to those challenges, and to convert those challenges into an opportunity." A report from the OECD conference on e-commerce will appear shortly.