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.

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
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

Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Quantitative Risk Manager

Up to £80000: Saxton Leigh: My client, a large commodities broker, is looking ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits