Government forced to launch free 'bug busting' courses

The Government today announced free "bug-busting" courses for companies gearing up to tackle the millennium bug. The move follows the "poor response" to initial company training programmes earlier this year, which, despite an investment of nearly £30m by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Education and Employment, attracted only 240 responses.

The Government today announced free "bug-busting" courses for companies gearing up to tackle the millennium bug. The move follows the "poor response" to initial company training programmes earlier this year, which, despite an investment of nearly £30m by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Education and Employment, attracted only 240 responses.

A 100% grant is now available to any small or medium sized business wanting to take part in one of the 926 courses running throughout the UK. Speaking at a UNISON conference today, George Mudie Education and Employment Minister said: "Up until now most small to medium-sized businesses have ignored the bug message at their peril, so I now intend to offer free training instead of partially subsidised training."

With two organisations set up to raise awareness of the issues -- Action 2000, created by Tony Blair in July and Taskforce 2000 set up by the Conservatives before him -- it begins to look like a case of too many chiefs. A spokesperson for Action 2000 admits that people would prefer to have one body to deal with, but claims "it is just too big an issue to go under one banner".

Tim Little, millennium bug training manager at West London TEC is unimpressed with efforts so far: "We have about a dozen companies taking up training and the original target was to have about 400 by February 1999. If we get half that I will be happy." Lack of government information about the issue is partly to blame, according to Little. "People don't fully understand the scope of the problem. Although awareness in the market is high, so is apathy."

In a further attempt to encourage firms to take up courses, they have been cut in length from 3 days to 2 days. A spokesman for the DFEE hopes people will now find time to sign up: "The apathy on the part of business is something we are trying to crack. Businesses must recognise the need to deal with this problem or they will go under," he said.

The government hopes to attract 20,000 people to take part in the courses offered by further education colleges and Training and Enterprise Councils- by March 1999. To find out where courses are available the government is advising businesses to consult the Yellow Pages.