Millennium Bug fears prompt Blair to call for contingency plans

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has ordered strategic industries and government departments to draw up contingency plans in the event that the Millennium Bug has not been ironed out of the nation's computer systems by 31 December, 1999. Michael Harrison assesses the latest attempt to tackle one of the biggest threats facing the global economy.

The contingency plans will cover key sectors of the economy such as telecoms, financial services, electricity generation, transport and broadcasting. They will also include Whitehall departments, particularly those responsible for large budgets and the payment of benefits to the unemployed, sick and elderly.

Other industries, such as process plant and the chemicals sector may also be drawn into the contingency planning because of fears of the threat to safety and industrial production resulting from wide-scale computer shutdowns.

The existence of the plans emerged yesterday as a new initiative was launched to tackle the Year 2000 computer threat. Don Cruickshank, chairman of the Millennium Bug Campaign, warned that while awareness of the problem was high, "very few" companies had so far acted to update their computer systems.

The problem stems from the inability of computers to recognise the change to years beginning with the number ''2''. There are fears that airline computers, traffic lights, hospital equipment and credit cards will not function properly, resulting in chaos on an unprecedented scale.

Estimates of the cost of adjusting the world's computers range from pounds 20bn to pounds 50bn. But Mr Cruickshank admitted yesterday: "I do not know how widespread the problem is going to be come 31 December, 1999. I do not know how much it is going to cost."

He also defended the comparatively tiny sums of government money being put into the campaign, even though Mr Blair described the threat as "one of the most serious problems facing British business and the global economy today".

Mr Cruickshank, who will put in one day a week, is pressing for an increase in his budget from pounds 1m a year but when the campaign is fully operational it will have a staff of only 10. At the moment it has an acting director, Dr Ian Eddison, who has been drafted in from the information technology industry.

The campaign will focus on giving industry, particularly small and medium- sized companies, advice on how they can solve their computer problem.

Once a company is confident its products are "millennium compliant" they will be encouraged to display a "Millennium Safe" logo (pictured below), although Mr Cruickshank stressed this would not mean any product or supplier would be government-approved. The campaign will also involve in-depth private market research to test how quickly the message is spreading. A total of 1,000 companies will be surveyed every quarter for the next two years.

Mr Cruickshank said one of the biggest areas of concern was the supply of sufficient numbers of IT specialists to deal with the problem. He also delivered a warning that as these skills became more scarce, companies would be charged more and the scope for cowboy operators to enter the market would increase.

Within the Government, each Secretary of State will be responsible for ensuring his or her department is millennium safe. A Cabinet committee chaired by Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, has also been set up to oversee the campaign and held its first meeting last night.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'