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Friday, July 30, 1999 Published at 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK


Business: The Economy

Why two bug busters battle...

Action 2000 and Taskforce 2000 continue to bug each other

They may be doing heroic work but the two bodies attempting to ensure the UK's computers are ready for the millennium are anything but compliant with each other. BBC News Online's Alex Hunt reports.

It may have the potential to end the world as we know it, but rarely has a subject outside of politics been such an instant switch-off for the majority of people in the UK.

That is despite hundreds of millions of pounds being spent employing computer experts to tackle the millennium bug - the computer glitch that could switch off millions of computers when they reach the date 1 January 2000 (otherwise known as the Year 2000 (Y2K) problem).

Bugtown UK
Bugworld
The deal seems to be that the experts get their bumper pay packages so that most of the rest of us can forget all about it.

This general lack of interest - particularly among business people battling to survive into September let alone January 2000 - has made the task of raising awareness of the problem a major challenge.

One of the increasingly newsworthy elements of the subject in the UK has been the almost constant bickering between two rival taskforces: the independent Taskforce 2000 and the Government funded Action 2000.

The two protagonists are Robin Guenier, cast aside with Taskforce 2000 by a new government stung by his criticism; and Gwynneth Flower, the executive brought in to rescue a faltering start by Action 2000.

They are bitter rivals - one who believes in scare tactics, and the other in sweet reason.

Russian Roulette or complacency?

The depth of their mutual antagonism was demonstrated when the two were brought together in the BBC's Money Programme studios.

Watching the broadcast the tension was tangible. They appeared not to look at each other. Anyone viewing will know there is little chance of these two ever working together.

The fireworks started when Ms Flower was asked whether her rival's latest research was an accurate representation of readiness for Y2K:

"No it isn't ... we need to keep this in context," she said before quoting what she said was a much larger survey carried out by her own Action 2000 team.

But Mr Guenier of Taskforce 2000 retorted: "Ours is a very robust survey. There are companies playing Russian Roulette with the millennium bug. They are threatening the economy of the whole county. Just to cast it to one side as irrelevant is a big mistake."

So what should the Government be doing?: "We would like to see them take it much more seriously. Complacency is dangerous."

Ms Flower replies that they are "far from complacent" before claiming that the UK has the best anti-Bug programme around.

Momentum lost

The bad blood dates back to October 1997, when Mr Guenier's Taskforce 2000 team was axed by the new Labour government as its millennium bug awareness body.

A man with the knack of attracting headlines, he had had a stormy relationship with Whitehall officials, whom he criticised for not doing enough to tackle the problem.

But if they thought this might be the last they saw of Mr Guenier, they were mistaken as he vowed to carry on his campaign after an "astonishing" vote of support from industry.

Private funding allowed Taskforce 2000 to continue while "Inaction 2000" (as dubbed by Mr Guenier) got off to a slow start. Industry concern grew at the loss of momentum for six months in a crucial stage of the campaign.

Since then Action 2000 has increased its funding and embarked on large scale advertising and awareness campaigns. But it always operates in more restrained manner than its predecessor.

It apparently wants to avoid public panic, which, if unleashed could cause almost as much trouble as the failure of computers themselves.

Sharing bubbly

Although there is little love lost between the two organisations, the truth is that they actually seem to complement each other.

Providing colourful criticism makes each survey newsworthy and helps raise awareness. One stokes up concern, and action through fear, while the other also attempts to keep the public calm.

We will not know whether this has worked until a peaceful and largely disaster-less UK has passed into the next millennium.

It would be nice to think that the two rivals may then gather to celebrate with a glass of champagne should the big day pass smoothly...



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08 Jun 99 | UK
Drive to beat Y2K panic

26 May 99 | UK
Millennium bug 'disaster' warning





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