The government wants UK businesses to step up their online activities after a damning report that found the UK’s progress in e-businesses was well below the European average.

The recent Digital Agenda for Europe scoreboard report, which tracked the progress of countries in adopting digital technologies, found that the UK came in at 28th out of 31 countries for overall e-business take-up. Against some indicators, the UK was only ahead of countries such as Cyprus, Lithuania and Hungary.

“The government is keen that all businesses realise the benefits of engaging with online tools,” a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) spokesperson said, but.

“We are working with local enterprise partnerships and third-party providers to encourage businesses to make greater and more effective use of the internet and web technologies within their business model,” the statement added - but there were no details of any concrete measures that government might take.

The EC report identified that the UK was weak in areas including the adoption of e-invoices, although there have been recent attempts to address this. For example, in East Anglia, free online invoicing provider Tradeshift announced that it will provide e-invoicing services to Anglia Support Partnership (ASP), the shared service provider to the NHS in the east of England. The service will be offered to around 6,000 suppliers, and it supports the government's drive to ensure the public sector makes prompt payments to its suppliers.

The UK performed particularly badly against the electronic supply chain management indicator (implemented by only 6.7 percent of firms) and on exchanging business documents suitable for automatic processing (14.5 percent of firms).

The government said that businesses could look at Business Link for information on how to incorporate digital tools into their day-to-day business activity, and from next month they will also have access to a website that gives access to a mentor who can offer practical business advice.

“Engaging with digital technologies is more than just about selling online. It’s about such things as driving marketing through social media, increasing website exposure through search engine optimisation and procuring and enhancing supply chains through business-to-business web-based networks,” the spokesperson continued.

Meanwhile, IT industry association Intellect said that the EC’s findings were unexpected.

“We are surprised by these findings as overall we believe the UK performs well on e-commerce," said Antony Walker, director of strategy at Intellect.

“Some of the metrics look very specific so there may be specific reasons that account for them. We would need to look into the findings in more detail to fully understand the implications. It is essential for UK growth and jobs that UK companies make full use of the significant benefits of e-commerce.”