Unlike his predecessor, Timms can boast an industry background in IT, but is currently dodging fire from vendors, pressure groups and analysts for failing to develop a coherent national strategy to roll out broadband.
On his appointment, Timms pledged to ‘listen closely to the industry’ and open the lines of communication between government and the industry.
He may live to regret those promises unless he can prove to business, and the public in rural areas eager to get a share of broadband, that he is a man of his word.
Granted broadband is probably not one of the highest of the prime minister’s priorities at the moment what with controversial proposals on foundation hospitals, more terrorist attacks abroad and Clare Short’s recent resignation, but the 48-year-old Cambridge mathematics graduate has always assured that the prime minister is wholly committed to the national roll out of broadband as well as other e-government targets.
In a move seen as an attempt to assure onlookers of the government’s commitment, a few weeks ago Timms announced the appointment of a broadband director solely responsible for Westminster’s high-speed telecoms strategy.
‘We have quite a short window of opportunity given the imminence of substantial public sector investments in broadband,’ he said. ‘We need to establish the balance of demand aggregation between national and regional levels, and set up structure to carry out aggregation and procurement in an efficient way.’
Timms also said figures on broadband penetration, showing the UK sixth out of the G7 countries for broadband, would be reassessed in the next few weeks.
He predicted ‘a happier tale’.
If the MP can deliver this ‘happier tale’ it will not only silence critics – and the doubters who claim the government has little hope of reaching its target of connecting all schools, GP surgeries and courts with broadband by 2006 – but will also significantly boost his credibility and popularity among businesses.
According to an Institute of Directors survey published earlier this year, more than three-quarters of companies say using broadband technology will reduce their costs.
MP for East Ham, Timms was previously minister of state for schools at the Department for Education and Skills. He worked in the computing and telecommunications industry for 15 years first for Logica and then for Ovum before entering parliament in 1994.
He has been honorary president of the Telecommunications Users Association and a member of the Council of the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee.
Timms’ dedication to technology extends to the running of his own website www.stephentimmsmp.org.uk, where he informs his constituents of his weekly travails.
If Tony Blair’s support remains intact and Timms’ enthusiasm continues, he might just reach those e-government targets. If not, the development of broadband infrastructure could make or break the minister, as some observers stated almost a year ago to the day.
- For more on government’s e-targets, go to www.dti.gov.uk.
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