Prime Minister Tony Blair has unveiled plans to provide Pounds 30 million to train 20,000 people to tackle the potentially catastrophic "millennium bug", writes Phil Baty.
Experts have warned that computers programmed to recognise dates with years represented by only two digits will crash in the year 2000, as they will fail to interpret the date 00.
A European Commission study has warned that worldwide telecommunications, health, transport and emergency services as well as businesses, could all collapse if computers are not reprogrammed.
The Pounds 30 million, taken out of the Pounds 90 million allocated in the budget to set up centres of excellence for information technology skills, will go directly to small businesses, in grants of up to Pounds 1,300 each.
Small-business managers are expected to turn employees into resident "bug busters", by sending them on short courses, which will train them to prepare IT systems for the millennium date change.
David Blunkett, secretary of state for education, said: "These courses will not only tackle the millennium bug, but will also serve to open up opportunities for trainees and enable them to progress further in a career in IT."
The initiative, he said, would complement the Pounds 60 million network of about 40 Centres of Excellence.