Millennium bug could bring us an extended bank holiday

THE Bank of England is suggesting that the three-day Millennium Holiday, at the end of next year, be extended by a day to help overcome problems posed by the millennium computer bug.

A more drastic call, for a world-wide one-week holiday in the first week of the new millennium was made to an international conference organised by the Bank for International Settlements, in Basel, last week.

With fears growing about the consequences of Year 2000 (Y2K) computer crashes, Don Cruickshank, chairman of the Government-backed Action 2000 campaign, told The Independent that many people who think they will be celebrating the new millennium - on holiday - will, in fact, be working flat out, trying to deal with the millennium bug. The impending crisis is threatened by the fact that many computers have not been programmed to distinguish between 2000 and 1900 when their two-digit dates change to 00 from the end of next year.

The consequences of chain-link "crashes" between computers are completely unknown, and Eddie George, Governor of the Bank of England, had warned: "We face a day of judgment on that first day of the year 2000. The IT systems on which the entire business community now depends are not capable, at least in part, of recognising or responding predictably to dates beyond the end of this century." The Bank of England says the continuation of orderly markets might not be possible "if a large enough proportion of the participants are unable to trade or settle - and particularly if those still operating try to make a profit out of the situation.

"Therefore, exchanges will be planning how to manage such a crisis, including procedures for closing the market altogether." The scale of the risks involved was underlined yesterday by a report saying that foreign exchange settlement failures could quadruple in the first week of January 2000, costing the markets as much as $10bn in one week. In a speech to a Basel "Round Table on the Year 2000" last week, Edward Yardeni, chief economist with Deutsche Morgan Grenfell in New York, called for the creation of an international Y2K Alliance to deal with the threat.

At the request of Tony Blair, the Group of Eight most developed nations are due to discuss the global implications of the millennium bug at their next summit, to be held in Birmingham next month.

Leading article, page 16

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