A damning report from the British Chambers of Commerce's e-business taskforce, released today, has hit out at government plans to get a million small firms trading online by 2002 as a hindrance to actual progress.

The report, which is due to be presented to 'e-minister' Douglas Alexander in a meeting later today, says the government would be better off investing more money in areas that are slowing down the development of e-business, such as tackling cybercrime and improving access to broadband rather than using money to coax businesses online.

"British companies are not in the business of fulfilling aspirational targets set by any government," said Sally Low e-business policy adviser at the BCC (British Chambers of Commerce). "The role of government should be one of enabling business [to trade online] in the most efficient and effective manner, and not to preoccupy itself with assessing and measuring targets."

The Department of Trade and Industry's Business and Information Age study revealed that only 540,000 businesses are currently online and in some areas the number of e-businesses has fallen. The number of businesses ordering online has dropped in the last year from 64,00 to 40,000.

The DTI said privacy concerns and availability of services were just two areas that needed addressing before companies would convert to trading online.

Several barriers to the growth of e-business were also highlighted by the taskforce, including the lack of progress in developing broadband.

Telco watchdog Oftel said broadband services "are a key feature" to making the whole online experience more efficient and stressed the importance of making the service universally available, but said this was just one of the reasons why e-business growth was slow.

The differing levels of 'e-competence' between government departments and inconsistent training by government-accredited advisers are also pointed out as areas that need to be improved.

"We need to get the basics right," added the BCC's Low. "Think small first and let business make it happen."