The e-Summit

April 30, 1998

On 19 September 2002, over 400 delegates gathered in London for the e-Summit organised by the Office of the e-Envoy. The e-Summit was presented as the first event of its kind by Jeremy Vine of BBC’s Newsnight, who acted as host for the day. The aim of this meticulously organised and spectacularly staged event was two-fold:

· to serve as the forum to discuss the achievements and challenges of governments, individuals and businesses in the digital age; and

· to launch the International Benchmarking Report on the World’s Most Effective Policies for the e-Economy prepared by Booz Allen Hamilton.

The e-Summit was structured in three sessions – e-Government, e-Citizen and e-Business – and consisted of a number of presentations and panel debates with speakers from the private and public sectors.

The Office of the e-Envoy lined up very high profile speakers for the event including Patricia Hewitt MP (Secretary of State for Trade & Industry), Digby Jones (Director General of the CBI), Douglas Alexander MP (Minister for e-Transformation), Pierre Danon (CEO of BT Retail), David Varney (Chairman of MMO2), Stephen Timms MP (Minister for e-Commerce) and David Jordan (Chairman of The Information Age Partnership and Phillips Electronics). However, the highlight of the day was the visit of the Prime Minister himself, who gave the keynote speech.


The e-Government session was introduced by Douglas Alexander’s enthusiastic speech. Douglas Alexander made it clear that the “e-enablement” of public services is a vital and expanding part of the reform and modernisation agenda that the Government is seeking to advance. However, he acknowledged the challenge faced by the Government, as the standards against which e-Government services will be compared are the same that apply to the online sale of one million tickets per month by EasyJet or Ryanair.

In terms of figures, we heard that today 54% of all government services are available online. However, the immensity of the task ahead is evident, considering that government conducts in the region of five billion transactions a year, spread across 20 departments, 480 local authorities and more than 200 agencies. As Douglas Alexander put it, it is difficult enough for those who work in government, but almost impossible to navigate for those who don’t.

The e-Government panel debate that followed focused on how to increase the number of people who use e-services. However, it was generally acknowledged that making all government services available electronically for the sake of it was not the goal. The key issue was perfectly summarised by Dr Ian Kearns (Head of the Digital Society Programme of the Institute of Public Policy Research), who said that the real debate was about how to employ and deploy technology in order to deliver better public services.


The e-Citizen session looked at the measures that were required – beyond setting up the technological infrastructure – in order to allow individuals to benefit fully from technology. Ivan Lewis MP spoke about the critical role of e-learning in that process and said that the important thing was to ensure that access and use were not isolated from skills and learning. He went on to say that the Government was ready to move to the next phase of a strategy to embed e-learning across the curriculum, across the sectors and across all types of education and training.

However, the widespread scepticism of the citizens was dramatically evidenced by the presentation given by Sian Kevill (Head of the New Politics Initiative at the BBC). She told the audience that BBC research showed a “disillusioned customer citizen” who is used to getting what he or she wants in a competitive commercial environment, but who does not feel part of the political process. She challenged the Government to use new technology to allow the citizen to take an active role in day-to-day policy making.


Digby Jones provided a clear and detailed view of what the business community believes is required to develop the e-Economy. He stated that the Government had made some impressive progress in achieving its goal, set in 1998, of making the UK the “best environment in the world for e-commerce”, but that ministers should ensure that their policies deliver an environment that allows business to prosper. He made a plea to the Government to guard very carefully the “jewels in the UK crown”: tax competitiveness and labour market flexibility.

Mr Jones also mentioned that when the CBI conducted a review of how much and how effectively British firms were using e-business technology earlier this year he was very encouraged by the results. The survey revealed that firms had matured in their thinking and that businesses were no longer expecting the Internet to massively improve markets overnight, but that nearly 90% of firms were now using e-business technology to improve efficiency. His speech was a good preamble to Tony Blair’s keynote address.

Keynote address

The Prime Minister declared that how we harness the potential of technological change is the fundamental economic and social challenge of our future. He acknowledged that the UK was doing well, but not well enough. As a result, over the next few years the Government will invest £6bn in technology. He said that we had yet to grasp the full scale of the opportunities that the information revolution presented. Businesses needed to see the application of IT as a core management challenge and public services needed to see it as crucial to implementing public service reform. For all of that to happen, he said, access needed to be universal.

The Prime Minister pointed out that the Benchmarking Report on the World’s Most Effective Policies for the e-Economy placed the UK in second place behind the USA and, therefore, the Government was committed to taking specific actions to convert progress into a real and positive impact on our economy, including:

· promoting effective competition

· creating the right incentives and support for businesses to seize the opportunities of new technology

· making the opportunities and benefits of the knowledge economy inclusive

· providing funding to deliver broadband connections to every school by 2006

· investing in networking all public services.

In the afternoon, Patricia Hewitt, Stephen Timms, Andrew Pinder (the e-Envoy) and Jeremy Vine participated in an animated “question time” session addressing issues such as the promotion of B2C e-business, universal access to broadband services, Internet security and electronic identity for citizens.

The final part of the e-Summit consisted of an international “e-Envoy panel” with representatives from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the US. The panel looked at some of the issues covered by the Benchmarking Report and compared national strengths and weaknesses. The panellists agreed that there was much room for international cooperation, particularly in areas like IT training, infrastructure development and regulatory policies.

The day finished with the announcement made by the UK e-Envoy that his office was launching a new strategy for e-Government, focusing on the customer and ensuring that key services – health, education, criminal justice and democracy – received high levels of use.