Letter: Time-bomb in Whitehall

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The Independent Online
Time-bomb in Whitehall

Sir: You report on the Civil Service's vision for the year 2002, by which time 25 per cent of simple government transactions with the public might be carried out electronically ("Major's vision of an armchair TV revolution", 4 March). The Civil Service might like to explain first how public sector computers will cope with the Computer Millennium Problem (CMP).

Under the CMP up to 90 per cent of computers will be unable to move from 31 December 1999 to 1 January 2000, and will become useless. The cost to UK business of dealing with its CMP has been estimated at up to pounds 35bn, equivalent to 1 per cent of annual UK business turnover. BT alone is said to be spending a figure equivalent to 5 per cent of its annual turnover in sorting out its CMP.

Given that the public sector accounts for 40 per cent of UK gross domestic product, and that government makes huge use of computers, the cost to the public sector of sorting out its CMP could easily be in the range of pounds 10bn to pounds 20bn.

It is therefore not reassuring that in response to recent parliamentary questions asking the Government what policies are in place to deal with its CMP, the reply has been that the matter is under review. Students of the Yes Minister TV series will recognise the phrase "under review" as signifying the very lowest level of activity, approximately zero.


Head of Economics

Chantrey Vellacott

London WC1