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Monday, September 13, 1999 Published at 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK


Blair announces 'e-envoy'

"The Internet will soon be as common as the telephone in the office"

BBC Correspondent John Moylan reports on how UK businesses are preparing for the electronic age
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has announced that he is to appoint Alex Allan, a former High Commissioner to Australia, as the government's new "Internet czar".

Mr Allan, 48, who was principal private secretary to the prime minister between April 1992 and August 1997, held his post as commissioner from November 1997 until now.

He will work closely with 'e-minister' Patricia Hewitt, who previously worked at the Department of Trade and Industry with the information technology industry.

Mr Blair is also expected to encourage British companies to embrace online trading, or risk bankruptcy at the hands of international rivals.

He made his announcement during a tour of "Silicon Fen", the centre of the UK IT industry, in Cambridge.

The BBC's Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall: "UK online transactions will be worth nearly £3bn this year"
Mr Blair will also unveil a government plan to make Britain the best place in the world for electronic commerce within the next three years.

[ image: 9m Britons will be on the Internet at the end of the year]
9m Britons will be on the Internet at the end of the year
The proposals will include government action to ensure people are equipped with the necessary IT skills, such as a big discount on training courses for adults.

Mr Blair is expected to discuss how best to reassure consumers that the Internet is a safe and secure place to shop.

Lagging behind Finland

Mr Blair's trip coincides with a government report warning that Britain is in danger of lagging behind in e-commerce.

The BBC's Denise Mahoney: "The UK is lagging behind Finland and Norway"
The study, from the Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU), suggests that the UK is already being outstripped by not only major economies like the US and Canada, but also some small ones like Norway and Finland.

An estimated 9m Britons will be using the Internet by the end of the year.

[ image: UK online transactions will be worth almost £3bn this year]
UK online transactions will be worth almost £3bn this year
UK e-commerce transactions are expected to be worth £2.8bn this year, and experts say that figure could grow tenfold by 2002.

But the report will warn that unless something is done quickly, British industry will be overtaken by international competitors using the Internet to sell direct.

Small businesses are thought to have been especially slow to embrace the challenges of online trading.

The report will also prompt the UK government to do more to lead the way by providing more of its services electronically.

Mr Blair's speech will be broadcast live on BBC News Online at 1200BST on Monday 13 September.

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