Response to the government's Millennium Bug Campaign, launched last week, has been minimal so far.
?Our job is to make small businesses aware of the Year 2000 issue,? pledged Ian Eddison, director of the government millennium awareness body Action 2000, at the launch.
But critics claim the Campaign has no sound advertising strategy.
The Campaign, which consists of a Web site and a phone hotline manned by three operators, is being marketed through trade associations and business links, but cannot guarantee it is reaching its target body of small businesses.
The phone line, in the two days it operated since Thursday last week, took fewer than 500 calls, two operators said, and the DTI was unwilling to give out figures of hits on the Web site. ?It wouldn?t be a meaningful figure,? one representative said.
?We?ve got to bang the drum as hard as we can,? Eddison said. ?We believe large companies - although they don?t have solutions in place yet - have large budgets and large numbers of staff so they won?t be a problem for us. We?re trying to encourage larger companies to take responsibility for small companies with the logo: ?your millennium bug problem is my millennium bug problem.??
Robin Guernier, head of independent millennium awareness group Taskforce 2000, disagreed: ?It will be a massive problem for big companies. If they haven?t started sorting out their Year 2000 strategies now, then they?ll find it very difficult to catch up.?
However, the main issue according to Guernier is time, not money. Reports published at the weekend indicate that the bill for UK business could be around #52 billion.
?A number like #52 billion could be the right answer for a comprehensive solution for the UK, if not more than that," Guenier said. "But we simply haven?t got the time to spend that amount of money even if we had the resources to spend it on. We couldn?t spend more than #20 billion. And who is going to decide what doesn?t get fixed? Someone?s got to prioritise and this will take tremendous planning from government.?
In response, Ian Eddison argued: ?We want to move the agenda on from the doom and gloom. Action 2000 was not set up to solve the problem, but to change the hearts and minds of businesses by offering advice and encouragement.?
Guernier asserted that the government may be going about it the wrong way, even criticising the campaign's logo, which features a manic looking insect.
?The logo itself is embarrassing. If the government tried to promote a food safety campaign using a logo of a cartoon mad cow, no-one would take it seriously. I think they?re making a joke of it, recruiting bug doctors and so forth. It isn?t even a bug anyway, and I feel this could be counter-productive because big companies will look at this and think, ?what?s all this got to do with me???
Eddison responded: ?We are not about trivialising the issue. It is serious. The logo itself is based around the international warning symbol and the bug replaces the exclamation mark. But we wanted something a little more accessible.?
Questioned on the breakdown of budget and the sums likely to be involved, he replied: ?We should know this in March and intend to issue a report then.?
In spite of the fact that many people - including Edward Yardeni, Deutsche Morgan Grenfell?s research director in New York, believe that there is a 60 per cent chance of a major world recession in the Year 2000 - a spokesperson for the Action 2000 project said: ?It is more of a business issue than a governmental issue.?
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