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GENERAL IMPROVEMENTS IN PUBLIC SECTOR PREPARATIONS FOR THE YEAR 2000 BUT THE POOREST PERFORMERS STILL A CAUSE FOR CONCERN

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Many local authorities and NHS bodies have made significant progress in preparing for the year 2000 problem, but a ...
Many local authorities and NHS bodies have made significant progress in preparing for the year 2000 problem, but a small number are falling further behind, according to an Audit Commission report. All organisations must also take urgent action to prepare contingency plans to ensure that services will not be affected.

Time Marches On provides an update on the Audit Commission review of preparations for the year 2000 problem published in June 1998. The report assesses progress in the six months to the end of September by councils, NHS hospitals and health authorities, and the emergency services.

Within local government, unitary councils and metropolitan councils have made the most progress, with county councils also improving their position. However, there are still wide variations between different councils. In particular district councils have made the least progress as a group, with two thirds below the average position for local government as a whole. This poses potential risks to the key public services for which they are responsible, such as housing, environmental health and the payment of benefits.

While significant progress has also been made by the emergency services as a whole, a small number of authorities and trusts fell well below the average and urgent action is required.

Over the last six months the NHS has made the greatest progress, with all categories of NHS body showing marked improvements and health authorities in particular making the most progress.

The report identifies significant progress made by all organisations, whilst highlighting that much remains to be done. Areas of improvement include:

80% of NHS organisations and 50% of councils have now established a year 2000 budget;

90% of NHS organisations and two thirds of councils have now requested compliance information from their suppliers;

80% of NHS organisations and 50% of councils have now identified which systems and equipment take priority;

50% of councils and trusts have now developed a strategy for testing equipment and systems.

In all sectors progress is still being hampered by difficulties in obtaining compliance information from suppliers of equipment containing embedded systems - such as medical equipment. Three quarters of NHS organisations and 40% of councils are currently chasing clarification of ambiguous responses from suppliers.

The report also highlights the need for authorities and trusts to take urgent action to prepare plans for how they will respond if things still go wrong. One fifth of NHS bodies and two fifths of councils have yet to commence the contingency planning process. It is important that these plans are developed jointly by all relevant local services (including utilities, transport and telecommunications companies), so that in the event of a failure vital services can be sustained. The report provides advice and guidance on the contingency planning process to assist authorities and trusts with this important activity.

Andrew Foster, controller of the Audit Commission, said:

'The majority of authorities and trusts deserve congratulations for the progress they have made on this issue. Most still have much to do and it is of considerable concern that an important minority are lagging behind.

'The commission is drawing its concern to the attention of audited bodies who are behind target and will publish their names if there is no significant improvement by the spring.'

'Time Marches On: facing the challenge of the year 2000 date change' (ISBN1862401284) is available from Audit Commission publications on freephone 0800 502030 priced£15. (£10 reduced price for NHS bodies and local authorities).

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