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Tuesday, February 2, 1999 Published at 11:53 GMT

UK Politics

Bug fears for big business

Not all top businesses are ready for the millennium bug, experts warn

Millennium bug experts have accused a UK government agency of distorting its own survey of big business preparations for 2000.

When Action 2000 presented the results of it survey of FTSE-500 companies last week, it said 90% were on track to deal with the effects of the computer problem.

But campaign groups insist the true picture provided by the snap shot of big business is far more worrying.

[ image: David Walton:
David Walton: "Half the FTSE-500 companies are behind at present"
Robin Guenier, of Taskforce 2000, and David Walton, who heads Year 2000, say the government's interpretation of its figures (see chart) is fundamentally flawed.

By looking at the same results, they say 20% of companies listed in the Financial Times index of the top 500 have not yet taken a full inventory of the problem. A further 45% have not completed their millennium bug strategy.

Mr Guenier told BBC News Online: "If those companies are doing this badly then I think we should be screaming it from the roof-tops.

"If things are as bad as they say then we are facing a real emergency."

But he added that - despite his repeated warnings to the government to take the year 2000 computer problem more seriously - he thought the problem was not as bad as the survey seemed to show.

[ image:  ]
"The whole thing is a complete muddle," he said.

But Mr Walton, who runs the Year 2000 Website warning of the possible effects if computers and chips fail to recognise dates after 31 December 1999, said he thought the situation within big business could be dire.

"I think half the FTSE-500 companies are behind where they should be at the moment," he told BBC News Online.

"These companies will experience failures of systems, of their supply chain and so on. They will have to firefight in some way and that will impact their business and efficiency in some way - to what extent is very hard to say.

"But if they published the data on this it would have a significant impact on these companies' share values."

The government's decision, via Action 2000, to highlight a seemingly positive figure is typical of the "continual tendency to put a positive spin and gloss on figures", Mr Walton said.

[ image: Action 2000 says its survey is one of the most robust carried out]
Action 2000 says its survey is one of the most robust carried out
"What I'm objecting to is the stifling and suppression of information.

"All I've seen is the original questionnaire and a high level summary of the results. I'd like to see raw data."

Action 2000's planning manager Ben Skelton denied the figures meant many top companies were failing to address the millennium bug.

He said not all businesses would need the sort of detailed inventory and strategy asked about in the survey.

Some FTSE-500 companies only have three employees, he pointed out.

"It's more about having the right approach and tackling it with the right frame of mind."

Mr Skelton said the survey received a 47% response rate and was "one of the most robust studies of the FTSE-500 ever".

  • Conservative MP David Atkinson on Tuesday put proposals before Parliament requiring "essential public services and critical infrastructure" to draw up contingency plans for the millennium bug.

    He said the UK was relatively well prepared, but "no computer is an island and no island such as ours can be insulated from the global economy".

    He added: "The early warnings by experts that there will be a tidal wave of chaos affecting whole economies, commencing where the new millennium will arrive first, in the Pacific, moving westwards with the speed of time, are no longer treated with such incredulity."

    Mr Atkinson's Computer Millennium Non-compliance (Contingency Plans) Bill stands no chance of becoming law.

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