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Bug cash no cure for legal risks

CONSTRUCTION FIRMS should not rely on the government to solve their 'millennium bug' problems, the industry was warned this week.

Construction Industry Computing Association managing director Ian Hamilton is concerned that steps announced by Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday appeared to do little to help construction companies at risk from the legal liabilities of computer failure.

Measures announced include £70M to help small and medium sized businesses develop the skills to assess and fix the 'bug'. The government is also increasing the budget of the independent body Action 2000 from £1M to £17M so it can promote an understanding of the problem and provide guidance. Action 2000 will also assess the key risks to the nation.

But firms could be exposed both to claims for compensation if systems fail, and to prosecution from the Health & Safety Executive (NCE 26 February). The problem could hit embedded chips in systems such as air conditioning, as well as causing widespread failure of computers unable to interpret the date after the millennium.

Auditing the vulnerability of infrastructure is essential, said Salford University professor of construction IT Martin Betts. He hoped the new cash would allow companies with policies already in place to concentrate efforts in the most effective areas. But he also warned that firms should not assume the government had now solved the problem and that nothing more needed to be done.

Very small firms with perhaps a single PC would benefit more, said Hamilton, from a simple booklet setting out how to check the computer clock and reviewing the use of 'bug fixing' software.

Lisa Russell

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