Utilities `complacent' over 2000 crisis

The heads of the privatised utilities have been accused of complacency by a government-sponsored taskforce over their response to the looming year 2000 computer crisis, writes Chris Godsmark.

Taskforce 2000, the body set up by the Department of Trade and Industry to publicise the so-called "millennium problem", wrote to the chief executives of all the utilities in November asking them what preparations their companies had made. However, only a third of the utilities bothered to reply to the letter. Robin Guenier, head of the taskforce, described the response as "extremely thin."

Industry experts have predicted chaos across the world as computer systems shut themselves down when the date changes. Most programmes can only register the last two digits of the year, so that when 2000 approaches, many will interpret the date as 1900, causing widespread and unpredictable problems. Taskforce 2000 fears that electricity supplies will be cut off in many places as fail-safe systems are automatically activated.

Though the Taskforce 2000 letter was addressed to chief executives in the utilities, only two replied in person. The rest of the responses were mostly delegated to less senior individuals. Mr Guenier said he would take up the issue up with the companies personally.