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E-envoy throws down virtual gauntlet

Financial Times / 10 December 99 / Carlos Grande

Whitehall is urged to follow business lead in embracing the Internet, writes Carlos Grande.

Alex Allan, the government-appointed e-envoy, yesterday vowed to prevent Whitehall inertia stifling plans to increase the role of the Internet across ministerial departments.

Mr Allan, a former Treasury civil servant, called for the public sector to encourage individual initiative in delivering public services via the Internet.

In his first speech to businesses, he said: "Government is going to have to behave more like the innovatory businesses on the Internet in recognising the role of individual initiative. It has not been very good at this in the past. Departments have tended to be too conservative with a small 'c'. We know big, stuffy organisations are facing the challenge of the Internet. Government departments (must) be more rapid moving.

"Mr Allan said he would use the new post of e-envoy, based in the Cabinet Office and reporting directly to the Prime Minister, to push Internet issues across bureaucratic departmental boundaries. As e-envoy, he will be responsible for ensuring implementation of the 60 recommendations included in, the report by the Performance and Innovation Unit published in September. The document advocates removing barriers to e-commerce through lowering telecommunications charges, widening access to the Internet to all social groups and setting targets for government services delivered on the Internet.

The latter includes aiming for 90 per cent of routine government procurement to be done electronically by March 2001, with all public services capable of electronic delivery by 2008. "If the targets are too soft, we will up them .... I am quite ready to be judged on my results."

(Mr Allan was speaking on a video link from Canberra, Australia, where he remained as High Commissioner until he took up the e-envoy post in January).

Some industry representatives yesterday (at the ICX conference) criticised the delay, which followed an earlier hold-up in appointing Mr. Allan. Others have questioned whether one person could reform government processes and galvanise Internet use among companies.

However, Mr Allan told delegates at the ICX London conference that he was planning to recruit from the public and private sectors.

He said he would address two main complaints from businesses: high telecommunication costs and difficulties in convincing banks to allow companies to process credit cards online. "I welcome the recent announcement from BT on its flat rate. But there is a lot more needed - particularly in assuring that all the regions can take advantage of high bandwidth services. I really want to be seen as someone who can make a difference.

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