Monday, September 13, 1999 Published at 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Get business online - Blair
Tony Blair: "Get on Net or lose out"
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged British industry to make the leap into online trading or face the prospect of losing business to international competition.
"In two or three years' time, the Internet will be as commonplace in the office as the telephone."
Web czar appointed
The prime minister's speech coincides with the appointment of an "Internet czar".
He will work closely with "e-minister" Patricia Hewitt, who previously worked at the Department of Trade and Industry with the information technology industry.
The government will take the lead in moving forward into the new information era, Mr Blair said by, "promoting competition, minimising regulations and equipping people with the skills they need".
The government will offer 80% discounts on IT training courses for adults, he revealed.
The prime minister promised that from next year more government services will be available online, including tax self-assessment forms.
Blair learns to surf
To help him catch up Mr Blair said he will be taking a half-day computer course to teach him to use the Internet.
"Like many people of my generation in positions of leadership, I rarely use a computer and when I do I usually need help.
"But I know it's not good enough and if I recommend lifelong learning to others, then I know I should go back to school myself," he said.
The begonias will be delivered to Downing Street later on Monday.
Mr Blair told workers at the software company Zeus: "You do realise if I am going to send my wife flowers she is going to think I have done something really bad."
Lagging behind Finland
Mr Blair's visit to Cambridge coincides with a government report warning that Britain is in danger of lagging behind in e-commerce.
It 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.
Mr Blair said: "We need to act now. Too often Britain has made a good start, only to see others exploit the benefits of new technology."
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 warns that unless something is done quickly, British industry will be overtaken by international competitors using the Internet to sell direct.
The prime minister said that all 60 recommendations of the report had been accepted by the government.
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