Labour prime minister Tony Blair has vowed to spend $40 million toues. eradicate the year 2000 problem by recruiting a 20,000-strong army of bug busters.
Speaking at the Tackling the Millennium Bug conference in London, Blair attempted to convince listeners of the government's support for smaller companies' efforts to overcome the year 2000 problem.
At the conference, over 1,000 business people from small and medium enterprises listened to the prime minister promise to address the skills shortage of 50,000 people by making a grant of #1,300 available for each trainee on accredited short courses.
Blair also promised #40 million to set up a network of centres of excellence in IT training, and a further #30 million to help SMEs develop skills to assess and fix their year 2000 problem. The money will come from the #100 million allocated to technology skills in the recent budget.
Government working party, Action 2000, was awarded with extra funding - #17 million - with a brief to 'turn awareness into action.' Blair expressed concern over the '25 per cent of businesses that have not yet taken action.'
Trade and industry minister, Margaret Beckett, and public services minister David Clark, will head a Whitehall team responsible for co-ordinating the government's work on the year 2000 problem.
Blair admitted that central government's estimates of the cost of the bug have escalated from #370 million to #400 million. Total public sector cost - which includes NHS Trusts and local government - has been put at #3 billion.
The determination to raise awareness of the problem extended beyond the UK. Blair said he would use the UK's presidency of the European Union to make sure world leaders are 'fully aware of the problem and have discussed its implications.'
Hoping to lead by example, Blair announced that the UK had kicked off a fund in the World Bank to provide expert training and advice on the issue to developing countries.
But Robin Guenier, head of Taskforce 2000, the private millennium bug awareness group, was not impressed: 'How can we tell other people what to do when our public sector is so far behind?'
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