Blair to issue millennium bug warning

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair will call on business to wake up to the "millennium bug" which could lead to computers crashing at the turn of the century. But Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent, says the Government's own house needs to be put in order.

The Prime Minister is said to be "shocked and appalled" at the ignorance of small businesses to the threat posed by the bug and is giving the problem high priority, according to senior government sources.

He has become alarmed at the potential for disasterfaced by some firms. His planned "wake-up" call to industry and small businesses early in 1998 will drive home the message that they should make sure their computers are tested and altered to cope with the double zero date, well before the end of next year.

Mr Blair will put the computer problem high on the agenda for Britain's six-month presidency of the European Union, his officials said. "The Prime Minister is determined that Britain prepares itself and leads the preparations in Europe," said the Government source.

"He is shocked and appalled at the some of the neglect of the problem. One poll showed only 55 per cent of the companies were aware of the implications," the source added.

The Prime Minister's decision to act follows several reports in The Independent of the dismay among some experts at the lack of preparation being made in Britain to enable computers to cope with the millennium.

The Government has also insisted that its own computers are being corrected in time to cope with the millennium. A spokesman for the Inland Revenue denied claims by the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, Malcolm Bruce, that its PAYE computers could crash this year. Mr Bruce said the costs for the Government of coping with the bug had escalated to pounds 3bn.

The Government estimated it would cost pounds 370m to deal with computers in central departments, but Mr Bruce said this did not include thousands of computers in other areas of the public sector, including the NHS and transport.

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