City lines up 30,000 staff to meet the new millennium bug-free

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The Independent Online
UP TO 30,000 City workers will be required - hungover or not - at their desks over the New Year weekend to ensure that the computer systems on which the financial sector relies will be working as usual when trading on London's main financial exchanges reopens on 4 January.

Perhaps surprisingly, in view of the millennium bug hype, the Corporation of London estimates that the numbers needed this New Year may be as little as half the 60,000 staff needed to cope with the introduction of the euro last year. A further 10,000 to 20,000 are also likely to be on call at home in case of last-minute hitches.

London has opted for a safety-first attitude. The big New York and Chicago exchanges will be open for half-days on 31 December and 3 January, whereas the London Stock Exchange will close at lunch time on the 30th and reopen eight o'clock on 4 January.

Mark Percy, the Corporation's spokesman, said: "Last year many key foreign exchange staff needed to be on hand because of the euro. This year it will be mainly IT staff who are needed."

From the Corporation's point of view, this year will also beeasier because the large numbers coming to central London to view the millennium firework celebrations on the Thames, means public transport should be running more or less all night. Last year, the Corporation had to pay out of its own coffers to keep the Waterloo & City Line running over the holiday.

Although the police expect up to 3 million revellers along the Thames, a special cordon is being put around the City to ensure partygoers are steered away from the Square Mile.

And with no private vehicles being allowed into the special exclusion zone in much of central London, many firms have had to come to special arrangements with taxi companies and issue authorisations to ensure staff can be ferried around. Merrill Lynch, which is planning to have 600-900 staff working at any one time throughout the millennium weekend, has had 200 rooms booked since the start of the year in hotels close to its main sites. The firm claims to have been preparing since 1995 for Y2K and has identified 1,200 high-level checks which staff will be expected to carry out.

For many, this will be the second New Year running they have had to forego celebrating with friends and family. Last New Year's Eve, City firms cancelled all leave to cope with changing programs to handlethe new currency.

For some firms, the hiccup-free nature of last year's euro changeover in London has reinforced the growing conviction that the year 2000 switch will go without a hitch. Most of the preparatory work will have been done months ago, and IT staff will be on hand just for final testing and to deal with any problems when systems are restarted on 1 January.

Last year many City firms got the champagne out early as news began flooding in from around the world that checks had been passed ahead of schedule. As of late November the Financial Services Authority, which has co-ordinated the City's year 2000 preparations, was giving a blue "all systems go" rating to 100 per cent of the financial sector firms.