Ministry systems unready for 2000

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THREE GOVERNMENT departments have slipped behind in their preparations for the millennium bug, a junior minister admitted yesterday.

Computer systems at the Northern Ireland Office, Companies House and the Employment Tribunals Service will not be 2000 compatible until September or October.

Paddy Tipping, one of the ministers responsible for dealing with the bug, said in a letter to MPs that he was "concerned" about the delays.

The admission comes just days after a committee of MPs warned that some police and fire brigades were still unprepared for computer problems linked to the date change and demanded that they be publicly exposed. Mr Tipping told MPs: "In nearly every department and agency correction work has been completed and as soon as the systems have been fully tested they are signed off as ready. I am, however, concerned that three departments report for the first time that their business critical systems will not be ready until September or October.

"In all these cases I have written to the appropriate secretary of state, asking them to monitor progress carefully and ensure that any necessary remedial action is taken."

The Tories were disappointed with the scale of thereport. Angela Browning, thezshadow trade and industry secretary, said: "Margaret Beckett promised a monthly progress report on the state of preparations to combat the millennium bug. I was expecting a more comprehensive report than one letter from Paddy Tipping." She demanded that a full report be published and placed in the House of Commons library "without delay".

"There is clearly more work to be done. The Government must get on and do it."