SKILLS training in small businesses is set to improve with the creation of an Internet e-mail forum.
The Department for Education and Employment initiative aims to ensure that small firms get information about the development and transfer of skills.
David Blunkett, Education and Employment Secretary, said the information could transform small businesses, which do not have the luxury of a human resources department to help them invest in training.
"I want to give them an opportunity to share knowledge and experience via an electronic forum - a market place of ideas on the Internet," he told a London Enterprise and Training Agency business seminar last week.
One thousand small and medium-sized firms will join the e-mail forum initially, for information on skills, workforce development and key employment issues.
Michael Wills, the department's information and communications technology minister, will oversee the scheme which will link with the University for Industry.
"There are a thousand different ways in which businesses can use information technology profitably," Mr Blunkett said. "The people who work in small firms are vital to our national prosperity and developing skills for tomorrow's society is as important to them as it is to larger companies."
The Government plans to set up more than 700 IT learning
centres in disadvantaged communities to help adults and small businesses. Terms of reference for the centres' co-ordinating group were released this week.
Meanwhile, a group of 30 senior public servants - dubbed Information Age "champions" - are planning to drag the Government into the 21st century by drawing up its first corporate IT strategy, to be released in March. This is necessary to reach the target of making 50 per cent of dealings with the Government available electronically by 2005, and 100 per cent by 2008.
The strategy's aims will include "cutting-edge" technology such as interactive television, smartcards and websites to improve public services.
Ian McCartney, Cabinet Office minister, said one example was ensuring that by 2002 people could look for work electronically and be matched with jobs, get information and advice about training and benefits, and submit tax returns.
Patricia Hewitt, the e-minister, earlier this month announced new guidelines that will ensure a more coherent Government presence on the Internet. "We haven't used the Internet as well as we might," she said. "We haven't done enough to present a focused message about policy or create a common experience for those using Government sites. These guidelines will help change this."
Information Age Government