Introducing a range of internet measures, prime minister Tony Blair vowed yesterday that the UK will become the best country in the world for e-commerce.

The new initiative, branded UK Online, is designed to boost Britons’ use of the internet. In the van is a £1 billion scheme to ensure that all government services are online by 2005, while £15 million has been allocated to help businesses gain maximum advantage from the web. The government will also fund six hundred online centres to ensure that the poorer sections of the community have access to the internet.

Insisted the premier: "There is no new economy. There is one economy – all of it being transformed by information technology. What is happening is no dotcom fad that will come and go; it is a profound economic revolution."

The government has three strategic aims, the PM told an audience in Loughborough: to make the UK the best nation in which to conduct e-commerce; to ensure net access for all; and to make all government services available on the web. Planned training initiatives include …

 600 online centres offering access to poorer communities

 An internet access pilot scheme in post offices

 Discounts of 80% for online courses, reducing a £200 course to £40.

"If we live up to the challenge of the knowledge economy, we can reverse the decades of decline we suffered in the 20th Century and become one of the world's most successful economies in the 21st Century," evangelised the prime minister.

Pilot projects throughout the country have been in place since January, although critics warn that care will be needed to ensure that help is properly targeted and delivers the benefits to the right people.

News source: BBC Online Business News (UK)