<a name="4"> The British Government and the Year 2000 Date Problem (Millenium Bug/Millenium Computer Bomb <a name="5"> The Financial Times (UK)

March 20th, 1997

By George Parker, Political Correspondent

Delay on computer 'bomb' admitted

The government acknowledged yesterday it may have acted late in tackling the "millennium time-bomb", which could cost the next administration billions of pounds in reprogramming public sector computers.

The problem could mean the collapse of computer systems because machines cannot cope with the date 2000. Most computers use a two-digit figure for the year date and will be unable to cope with calculations involving years beyond 1999.

Mr Ian Taylor, technology minister, said yesterday the government was ahead of its European counterparts in addressing the problem but "with hindsight, we might have started earlier".

Mr Geoff Hoon, shadow technology minister, said the government had done virtually nothing. He told an information technology seminar organised by Cap Gemini, the computer services company, that the next government could inherit a bill of at least £3bn to stop computers failing on the first day of the new millennium.

Mr Hoon said the cost to the public purse could spiral because of a severe shortage of skilled computer engineers over the next three years.

"Programmers will also be heavily involved in preparing systems for economic and monetary union at exactly the same time, whether the UK is involved in the first wave or not," he said. "We foresee a very considerable budgetary deficit for the UK - there needs to be a degree of urgency which the government has not yet displayed."

Labour believes the government has deferred spending on the problem because the financial burden could be passed to a new administration.

Mr Taylor told the meeting: "There will be an overdemand for computer programmers, and that will have an inflationary effect, but there is no point in me saying that 2000 and European monetary union won't happen."

Mr Taylor has been praised by many in the computer industry for raising awareness of the problem.

All government departments have been required to complete audits of their systems by October and Mr Taylor said he was determined to complete a programme of corrective work by December next year.

The government is spending an extra £250,000 on raising awareness in the private sector of the need for speedy action, he added.

Last month Mr Taylor published the results of a government survey which found that less than a third of senior managers were aware of the potential timebomb.

"The century date change has serious financial and business implications - it will bring chaos unless management takes action now to anticipate and prevent it," he said. "Businesses are already encountering and using dates in the next century in forward planning."

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 1997

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