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MILLENNIUM BUG DAVID CLARK CALLS FOR ALL PUBLIC SECTOR PLANS TO BE PUBLISHED

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Public service minister David Clark has urged all public sector ...
Public service minister David Clark has urged all public sector

organisations facing the millennium bug problem to publish their

plans for dealing with it. This would demonstrate they were taking

the issue seriously, and be reassuring for the public.

In his third quarterly report to parliament on progress made in

tackling the millennium bug, Dr Clark said that most departmental

plans had remained stable. Progress had been made in correcting

business-critical IT systems and many departments had made inroads

into non-critical systems. It was now possible to identify targeted

qAdates of business critical systems. A few showed dates uncomfortably

close to the end of 1999, but these did not involve organisations

providing services to the public.

Dr Clark said that the total cost estimate based on department plans

had increased only slightly from£393m to£402m. Costs

would continue to be monitored closely, and departments expected to

meet them from existing IT budgets. Operative budgets were not

expected to be affected and only a minority of returns indicated that

it had been necessary to reallocate funds from other budgets.

For the first time, Dr Clark's review incorporated reports from

bodies and organisations within the wider public sector. A summary

of these had been published. Commenting on the summary, Dr Clark

said:

'The quality and depth of the information provided in the summary

varies, but the responses show that all the organisations covered are

aware of the problem and taking action. Some of these organisations

are small and the century date change has few implications for them.

'Others are critical to ensuring the continuation of key public

services over the millennium, such as the NHS and local authorities.

They need to re-assure the public that they will be able to do carry

out their functions satisfactorily. Ministers and I will be paying

particular attention to monitoring progress in these key areas and

reporting to the house regularly. The best way to re-assure us all is

for the bodies themselves to keep the public informed of their

plans.'

Dr Clark's review has produced seven immediate action points. He

would:

- write to all ministers indicating problems the survey revealed, and

warning against complacency. He would stress again the problems of

embedded chips

- ask all departments and agencies to continue to press for

information about product compliance from suppliers

- follow up individually issues of slippage and of insufficient

testing strategies

- monitor closely what departments are doing about risk assessment

and business continuity

- consider with ministers the mechanisms for monitoring and

reporting on the wider public sector, and about contingency planning

- call on all public sector organisations to make information about

the millennium bug programmes public

- report back to the house on the results of the next quarterly

returns

A full text of Dr Clark's statement is attached.

'I should like to make a statement reviewing progress on tackling the millennium computer problem within central government and the wider public sector.

Since my last report to the house on 3 March, I have conducted a

further round of enquiries on government departments and their

agencies and I am now also able to give a picture of progress in the

wider public sector. I am arranging for the completed questionnaires

received from departments in May, and summaries of them and their

reports on wider public sector bodies, to be placed in the libraries

of the house and published on the Internet.

Overall, departments' plans have remained stable since the March

review and very little change in scope has been found necessary. We

can now identify target dates for business critical systems. Most of

the returns show progress in correcting business critical IT systems.

A few show dates uncomfortably close to the end of 1999, though they

do not involve organisations that provide services direct to the

public. The overall target dates and the completion dates for

non-critical systems have moved by a larger margin. There are still

cases where testing seems to have started without a sufficiently

defined strategy and some plans still contain too little information

about embedded systems and telecommunication systems. I am following

up these issues with the departments concerned.

The majority of returns have shown little or no change in the overall

cost estimates. Departments are now firming up their estimates and

while some previously small estimates have increased significantly,

the overall costs have increased only slightly - now£402m, compared with£393m in the last round. Departments expect to meet these costs from their existing IT budgets and only a minority of returns indicated that it has been necessary to reallocate funds from other budgets. We do not expect operational budgets to be affected.

A majority of the returns indicated that departments and agencies

feel they have adequate skills to undertake the work, although there

is a heavy reliance on outsourcing and consultants. Although about a

third of returns stated that shortages of skilled staff could impact

on their year 2000 programmes. None of the departments reports

significant loss of skilled staff due to the millennium problem, and

where skilled staff turnover is normally high, there appears to be no

difficulty in recruiting new staff. Most of the organisations

reporting difficulties generally are small agencies but ministry of

defence and northern Ireland office also reported that difficulties

were being encountered in some areas.

The returns highlight that a number of departments and agencies are

still experiencing difficulties in securing responses from IT

suppliers about product compliance. I am asking all Departments and

agencies to continue to press for this information.

The returns indicate that many of the major departments have

conducted a full risk assessment and have developed business

continuity plans. This is a critical issue for all departments, and

ministers and I will be monitoring this closely.

In response to the concerns expressed in this house, the prime

minister has extended the remit of the Ministerial group on the

Millennium Date Change, which I chair, to include the wider public

sector. It is, of course, the responsibility of the chief executives

of these quangos, authorities and trusts to take effective and timely

action in relation to the date change problem so as to ensure that

there is no material disruption to the services which they provide

and that appropriate contingency plans are in place.

Nevertheless, it is a matter of concern to this house that the public

sector as a whole continues to operate effectively after the date

change and the ministerial group will take a close interest in the

progress being made there. Ministers have been in touch for some time

with key organisations which they sponsor to emphasise the importance

of tackling the date change problem and to help with advice and

support. I have asked them to report on these organisations and I

have placed a summary of their responses in the libraries of the

house and on the internet. I am also encouraging all non-departmental

public bodies, organisations and other bodies in the wider public

sector to publish their plans for millennium compliance.

The quality of the responses varies. They do show that all the

organisations covered are aware of the problem and are taking action,

but there is clearly still a long way to go before we have a complete

picture. Some of these organisations are small and the century date

change has few if any implications for them. But others are critical

to ensuring a satisfactory continuation of key public services over

the millennium, such as the national health service and local

authorities and they will need to re-assure the public that they will

be able to do so. The NAO report published last month stated that the

framework for managing the remedial process in the NHS is in place

but that tight control is needed to ensure success. I welcome the NHS

executive's statement that the millennium date change problem is its

top non-clinical priority and I expect other wider public sector

bodies also to treat this as a priority matter. There is not a great

deal of time left to put systems in place if progress has so far been

slow.

Ministers and I will be paying particular attention to monitoring

progress in these key areas and reporting to the house regularly. The

best way to re-assure us all is for the bodies themselves to keep the

public informed of their plans.

The importance of the Year 2000 issue is also widely recognised in

the European Union. At the meeting of EU Ministers for Public

Administration at Lancaster House on 20 May, ministers agreed to

review progress at the next meeting in Vienna and to exchange

information on the action that governments were taking to help ensure

continuity of operations in public and private sectors. They invited

me to take the lead and, I have today started the process by sending

the UK's contribution to this exercise to my European colleagues.

A new team has been formed within the cabinet office reporting to me

and the president of the board of trade. This 'Year 2000 Team' has

strengthened arrangements to drive forward action on the date change,

both within government and through working with Action 2000 in the

private sector. The reports we have so far show that the message is

certainly getting across and provide some re-assurances that action

is being taken. They equally show that we cannot afford to let up

the pressure, and that we still need to monitor progress closely.

This I will certainly do and continue to report to the house on a

quarterly basis.'

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