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Britain acts to soothe public Y2K fears

June 8, 1999
Web posted at: 10:57 p.m. EDT (0257 GMT)

LONDON (Reuters) -- Britain on Tuesday launched a national awareness campaign about the millennium bug to combat what it says is a serious component of the computer problem -- groundless public fear.

Year 2000 bug

"There are some problems remaining but what we have to be wary of is creating further problems ourselves," senior cabinet minister Margaret Beckett told Reuters.

The campaign, centered on a booklet called "Facts Not Fiction" which the government aims to get into every home in the land, is designed to calm unfounded fears and scare stories.

It promises Britons their money is as safe as ever, pensions and mortgages will be paid and cashpoint machines will dispense money as usual over the new year.

It also said key services -- electricity, gas, water and telecoms -- were well ahead of the game, so there was no need to fill the bath with water and stock up on firewood.

"The public utilities and the public services are among the people who have done the most preparatory work," Beckett said.

The Year 2000 problem comes from older computers and software, which only allow two digits for the year in dates. Unless dealt with, the year 2000 may be read as 1900, causing computers to crash as 1999 gives way to the new millennium.

With computers indelibly involved in all parts of life, apocalyptic stories have circulated about the need to prepare for the worst. "This campaign is about giving people confidence the work is being done," Beckett said.

Britain is generally regarded as being among the best prepared but last month, the National Audit Office found key sectors were still in danger of being affected by the bug.

While most areas of business and services are at little or no risk of shutdown, some services -- including the police, fire and rescue and hospitals -- all showed "elements where severe risks of material disruption remain," the watchdog said.

Beckett insisted the National Health Service and police force were working hard to be ready in time -- and would be.

Perhaps most at risk are small businesses which lack the finances or expertise to become millennium compliant.

Information technology law firm Nabarro Nathanson said the government should grant tax relief on Y2K-related expenditure by small firms, something proposed in the United States.

Beckett also said there were other dates that could prove a problem, such as September 9, 1999. Four nines was used as a cut-off code in some older programs. "We have to be aware throughout the year and even into next," she said.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

Britain may point fingers at Y2K laggards
March 18, 1999

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