Mandelson seeks a `digital envoy'

FIRST THERE was the "drugs tsar". Then came the "millennium bug buster". Now Tony Blair plans to appoint a "digital envoy" to spearhead Britain's advance into the age of electronic commerce.

The pounds 90,000 post is being advertised this weekend and the Government hopes to make an appointment in the new year.

Announcing the decision, Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, told the Commons that the Government was looking for someone who would "promote the United Kingdom as a global hub for e-commerce business and investment".

According to some estimates, total sales through the Internet could reach $2,000bn in Europe alone by 2001. Last Tuesday, the Government announced its intention to introduce a Bill into Parliament next year to promote electronic commerce. E-commerce will also be the centrepiece of the forthcoming competitiveness White Paper from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

The digital envoy will have the Prime Minister's personal authority and will champion the cause of electronic commerce, act as a public figurehead for the Government on the subject and promote the UK as the world's leading centre in which to trade electronically. The post will be based on the salary and conditions of a senior civil servant. The envoy will have business experience, preferably in retailing and financial services or in information technology.

A DTI spokesman conceded that given the pay on offer in the private sector it was possible that the chosen candidate would have to take a pay cut. "We are looking for someone who is motivated by more than just money." he added.

The Electronic Commerce Bill will allow customers to approve transactions with an electronic signature, removing the requirement that contracts be signed by hand to have legal force. It will also introduce a voluntary system for licensing the encryption standards used by commercial organisations for electronic commerce systems.