Outlook: Don't be in the air for the millennium bug

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The Independent Online
If Don Cruickshank's worst fears come to pass, then the most dangerous place to be on New Year's Eve, 1999, will be 20,000 feet up in one of the planes operated by his former employer, Richard Branson. But worry not. The chairman of the Millennium Bug Campaign has a plan. By then Virgin's tailfins will be adorned not with rude messages about BA but with "Millennium Safe" stickers, to reassure everyone that neither its computers nor its aircraft will suddenly crash as we ring in the year 2000.

As if that were not enough, the Prime Minister has also told Mr Cruickshank to make sure there are contingency plans in place just in case the other plans do not work in the desired manner. What Mr Cruickshank will not, have, however, is an open ended budget. For now he is expected to rub along with 10 staff, pounds 1m a year and an "acting director" which hardly seems to match Mr Blair's rhetoric on "one of the most serious problems facing British business and the global economy today".

In truth, all Mr Cruickshank can do is cajole, educate, promote and point the way. He is relying on big business to bear the cost since it is they who have most to lose. The idea is that they make their computer systems Year 2000 compatible and then bug their smaller brethren to do likewise on the basis that the weakest link in the chain is the one supplier still sailing into the next millennium with the wrong software.

Provided the IT industry can churn out enough skilled personnel to cope with the demand as the deadline approaches, Mr Cruickshank reckons we can escape a technological Armageddon as we enter the next millennium. If not, then, as one of the many briefing notes he so helpfully dispensed yesterday recommends, don't blame the Government, but consult a good lawyer.