A Year Ago: Blair stomps on millennium bug

First published: Mon, 30 Mar 1998 16:47:53 GMT
Written by Munir Kotadia, Contributor and  Richard Barry, Contributor

Tony Blair today announced a £97M package to deal with the Millennium Bug, which, in a column for The Independent, he described as a "technical time bomb" capable of causing "major disruption" throughout Britain.

At a London meeting, the Prime Minister outlined his plans to mobilise an army of 20,000 bug busters -- young people, older unemployed, or even retired people, who will receive government training to deal with the Millenium bug. Blair believes the plan, dubbed Action 2000, will have a two-pronged effect: putting people into IT training and dealing with the techno curse at the same time. Action 2000 had its budget increased from £1m to £17m with a further £10m put into a new World Bank Trust Fund to provide experts on training in developing countries.

Blair's efforts were immediately attacked by Cheryl Gillan, shadow trade and industry minister who accused Blair of abandoning the Conservative's original plan, Taskforce 2000, headed by the then science and technology minister, Ian Taylor. Gillan remains unimpressed with Blair's promises which she believes should extend to guarantee that "all essential services, such as the emergency services, benefit payments etc. are guaranteed not to be affected by the bug." In his speech, Blair made no such promises -- thought by some to have been a wise, if cautious tactic. "Practically, such a guarantee is not possible because the problem is on such a large scale," says Tahir Azam, an IT support specialist in London. "There's no way anyone could make that sort of guarantee."

Gillan also called for a "triage study" to prioritise what she termed "the most important sectors" affected by the bug. "Responsibility needs to be taken and contingency plans need to be made if those emergency sectors are not provided for," she says.

Blair says £70m set aside in the budget will be used to help companies deal with the millenium bug, "if we get the response we are looking for, there will be an army of 20,000 bug busters fully trained between now and next April."

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