01 July 1998

TRADE AND INDUSTRY secretary Peter Mandelson is to use the government’s economic muscle to give a massive boost to UK e-commerce, promising to make it 'Europe’s digital laboratory'. By 2001, 90% of government purchases will be made electronically, predicts Mandelson, who also promised to introduce early legislation to overcome the legal problems besetting retail e-commerce. The announcement came in Mandelson’s first big speech since appointment to his coveted new role: 'By the end of this parliament, I want the UK to be globally recognised as the best environment in which to trade electronically. It has been said of some of our European partners that they prefer regulation to competition. In our view, this risks stifling rather than stimulating innovation. I believe in competition wherever possible and regulation only when necessary, as the opening of the telecoms market demonstrated.' [Has Mandy’s obsession with the Dome toppled his grasp on reality, not to say history? Or is he seriously claiming credit for introducing competition to the UK telecoms market?] Tiring of Adam Smith he then switched to William Blake mode, proclaiming: 'The euro and new digital economy will cast a bright, unforgiving light on the uncompetitive. I want Britain to be the testbed for digital products and services in Europe so that UK consumers have access to these first and British business can lead the world.' In yet another switch, this time to hectoring mode, the major domo accused: 'Too many British businesses are lagging behind. Only 49% of UK employees work for firms with Internet access - compared with 73% in Japan. And only 13% of UK businesses with a Website use it for online trading - 29% do so in the USA.'