Sir Bruce Pattullo, governor of the Bank of Scotland, is backing demands for punitive legislation on Year 2000 compliance.
This is a surprise move from Pattullo, who is renowned for trenchant views on the ?nanny state? and the need to restrict government interference in commerce and industry. His apparent U-turn ranges him behind MP David Atkinson?s private member's bill - due to be debated in Parliament this week - which would compel companies to publish details of their preparations for the millennium date change.
The change of heart reflects Pattullo's strongly-held belief that banking and finance sectors are particularly vulnerable to Y2K problems, largely through no fault of their own. Most banks claim their IT systems will be fully compliant and functioning, but they fear they cannot be so sure of the compliance of their partners, suppliers and customers within the remaining timeframe. Many of these partners are linked electronically to the banks' IT systems. If the satellite systems crash on 1 January 2000, the effects on the financial sector could be catastrophic.
Pattullo has given his support to Atkinson?s bill, saying his main concern is about credit implications, via borrowing customers, to the UK banking industry.
'The Financial Times' reports that he is one of many high fliers - influential bankers and industrialists - calling for parliamentary action. Win Bischoff, chairman of Schroders investment bank, is another. British Steel and Bass Breweries are two of many blue-chips demanding government action. Realistically, Conservative David Atkinson has slim hopes of pushing the bill through the final Commons stages, probably on Friday. If he is successful, it would ensure that any legislation would reach the statute books before the general election.
The Department of Trade and Industry remains unconvinced that legislation is the most effective way of tackling this problem.The FT agrees with the government, taking a relatively sanguine view. It argues that governments are "rightly annoyed that they should be expected to solve a problem of the IT industry?s own making". Despite the risks to business if the world?s computer systems do crash or revert to 1900, they argue that a legislative approach is using a hammer to crack a nut.
Many commentators believe the potential $500 billon cost of reprogramming could add 50 per cent to IT budgets over the next three years. In fact, many organizations have decided to fund the cost of the millennium out of a separate fund, acknowledging that the burden is a business problem and not peculiar to IT.
The government?s hard line is criticized by some who argue that it was not unreasonable for users to expect a silver bullet. Even now, many pray that one will emerge, eliminating the need to plough through millions of lines of old, often undocumented code. Some companies can be equally hard line, warning suppliers and partners that they will lose contracted business if they can?t prove compliance.
Similarly, auditors, from 1998 onwards, will demand some Year 2000 preparations before signing off company accounts.
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