Year 2000 warning for Whitehall

European services company Cap Gemini has warned that an “army” of 30,000 civil servants will need to be mobilised if the government is to solve its Year 2000 crisis.

The warning follows Tony Blair’s own recent acknowledgement that Year 2000 presents Whitehall with one of its biggest headaches to date, needing millions of pounds – if not billions – to cure.

Cap Gemini’s own estimate for fixing government computers is #6.2bn, though it claims the public sector is spending only a fifth of what private firms are spending per employee – just #400, compared to #1,900.

Moreover, the services giant believes the Government, despite the prime minister’s assurances, is still seriously underestimating the problem.

Geoff Unwin, Cap Gemini’s chief executive, claims that some Whitehall departments have set completion dates as late as the end of 1999, leaving little margin for error.

And he said: “Nearly half of departments depending on external IT contractors to fix the problem have yet to secure that resource.”

Compounding matters, he warned, is the fact that the private sector is already struggling to find suitably qualified staff, making it increasingly unlikely that Whitehall will be able to overcome the skills deficit.

On the health front, Cap Gemini also reveals that at the start of last year only 13 per cent of NHS organisations had started compliance projects.

Even by the end of 1997, that figure had grown only to 20 per cent.

John Cotterell, head of Cap Gemini’s Year 2000 services, said: “If only a small number of vital public sector organisations miss the deadline, the consequences could be appalling.”

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