British Government Defends Y2K Spending

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

London ( - As British financial markets resumed operations Tuesday with no problems reported, the government echoed others around the world in defending the enormous sums spent preparing for the Y2K bug.

"Things do not go right by accident," said Margaret Beckett, minister in charge of preparations for the "millennium bug." The country owed a "great debt of gratitude" to all those who had helped ensure computers didn't crash and cause chaos on January 1.

The government's central monitoring office reported no glitches as British businesses went back to work after the extended holiday weekend.

The last major market to open in 2000, the London Stock Exchange went on line at 8 AM Tuesday. Business went smoothly, although the FTSE 100 index slipped sharply later, on concerns over interest rate rises.

Apparently the market thought interest rates had been held down for fear the "millennium bug" would strike and curb growth. As that hadn't happened, the Bank of England was expected to increase rates. Similar sentiments drove down Wall Street Monday.

Despite the immense relief, both Beckett and an independent watchdog, Taskforce 2000, warned that problems may still emerge in the weeks ahead.

Taskforce 2000 head Robin Guenier warned against complacency, stressing he had only expected about five per cent of potential problems to occur at midnight on Jan 1.

Billing systems and databases may encounter problems later, he said Tuesday, adding: "It's really far too early to breathe a sigh of relief and say it's all done."

Beckett said she was "cautiously optimistic," and too warned of possible future mishaps, pointing out that February 29 could pose problems. Because years divisible by 100 are normally not leap years - while those divisible by 400 are, however - some computer programs may not recognize that 2000 is in fact a leap year.

Beckett challenged the view that the money spent on ensuring Y2K readiness had not been well-spent.

"We are not out of the woods," she said in a statement. "Further glitches may well emerge ... but of one thing we can be certain - the time, effort and money invested in ensuring a safe IT transition to the new century has been more than worthwhile."

Beckett said the preparatory work - "quite possibly the largest single project since the Second World War" - had been vital, and those involved would have been the target of many, justifiable, complaints had they not taken the precautions.

"Inevitably, some are now questioning whether the effort was worth it, whether we might not have muddled through without this investment of time and money," she said.

"None of those who have had to work very long hours under great pressure to track down and then to resolve sometimes major problems are in any doubt."

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow