Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 04:55 GMT 05:55 UK
Millennium bug 'disaster' warning
The millennium bug may cause unforeseen problems
A government watchdog is warning that some parts of the UK may not be ready for emergencies caused by the millennium bug.
The National Audit Office is urging the government millennium bug taskforce Action 2000 and the Cabinet Office to apply pressure to councils to ensure they have contingencies in place.
The NAO's report says the public sector is largely ready for potential bug problems, caused by computer chips being unable to deal with the year 2000.
But it warns there is still "a wide variation in progress by local authorities".
The report says: "Despite best efforts, unforeseen disaster could nevertheless arise.
"Local authorities may also find that the normal mutual arrangements cannot be relied upon, and that any help from the military will be severely limited by other pressures."
It also notes that about 16% of ambulance trusts, four police forces and one fire brigade have computer systems which are not up to scratch.
Forty-five NHS organisations - about 9% of the health service - have been given warnings that they have to speed up their plans for the millennium.
The report adds that there could be problems in the delivery of supplies to hospitals and NHS staffing on 1 January.
Leader of the Commons Margaret Beckett said the government was confident there would not be a major failure of computer systems at the turn of the century.
But she said there was concern to prevent over-reaction and panic among the public.
She said she was satisfied that the government was doing as much as it could to protect the public sector from any potential problems, but the public reaction was more unpredictable.
She said: "Our research shows that people know the words, they know there's a millennium bug, but little beyond that.
"There's still a need for an awareness raising campaign. Public reaction and public concerns exercise my mind more than anything else.
"That's the bit that's most difficult to handle and predict. The technical stuff is just a case of nagging people to get on with the work."
Action 2000 says it expects a number of small computer failures as a result of the Y2K bug, and these may or may not combine to cause wider problems.
Ms Beckett advised people to stock up on food for the millennium - but no more so than they would for any extended public holiday.
A publicity campaign is to be launched on 8 June to advise people on what practical steps they can take to deal with potential Y2K problems.
It includes advice on checking bank accounts and home electrical appliances.