Labour fears that if it wins the election it may have to find #3 billion to cover the cost of tackling the year 2000 problem on government departments' systems.
"The government has not allocated sufficient funds to deal with the problem," claimed Geoff Hoon, Shadow IT Minister. "The cost to government alone may be #3 billion, and we fear that we may inherit a very major budgetary difficulty."
He said an incoming Labour government's problems would be compounded by the fact that industry would be straining to become year 2000 compliant.
Hoon was speaking at a conference in London last week, at which the two main political parties discussed their IT policies. His remarks were dismissed by Ian Taylor, the Science and Technology Minister, who argued that "it is not the government's job to fund solutions for the private sector".
Taylor said government's involvement should be limited to an awareness campaign.
Both did agree, however, that government plays a vital role in developing IT as a major part of the UK economy.
"Government is the largest user and distributor of information," commented Taylor. "So it's very important that we take the lead in information technology.
And, as a minister, I have to see what I can do to stimulate the market further."
Taylor noted that it was not always easy to impress the importance of IT on fellow MPs. He said while traditional industries such as car manufacturing always attract the attention of politicians, newer industries often go unnoticed.
Hoon sprang on Taylor's admission, saying Labour has a strong advocate of technology in its leader, Tony Blair.
"We have placed the use and exploitation of IT at the heart of our appeal to the electorate," Hoon declared. He noted that Tony Blair had devoted "a significant amount of time" to talking about technology in his two party conference speeches as Labour leader.
"We can't afford to see our society further divided into the information rich and the information poor," he said. "The great benefits of the information revolution must reach all citizens."
It's good to see that both the main parties are taking IT seriously.
Unfortunately, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for technology, Nigel Jones, was unable to attend. Perhaps he was sorting out his party's Armadillo Carrot policy ... (see last week's news story, page 3).
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