Councils tempt fate with Y2K

Not one local government council has successfully tested its Y2K plans. The Local Government New Zealand Y2K Readiness Survey - at around 90 pages - shows that 4% of regional councils expect to finish their Y2K preparations 'sometime in the year 2000'. Nearly a third of metropolitan-based local bodies won't be ready until between October and December 1999, despite the fact that over half of them have already experienced a Y2K failure.

Not one local government council has successfully tested its Y2K plans.

The Local Government New Zealand Y2K Readiness Survey - at around 90 pages - shows that 4% of regional councils expect to finish their Y2K preparations "sometime in the year 2000". Nearly a third of metropolitan-based local bodies won't be ready until between October and December 1999, despite the fact that over half of them have already experienced a Y2K failure.

Eight percent of councils won't be testing their Y2K plans for feasibility or cost-effectiveness. No council has tested its plans successfully at this stage, compared with 11% of large businesses.

Three percent of local bodies feel they don't need a business continuity plan at all. Only 16% have a continuity plan in place, although most are working on such a plan.

Over half the local bodies have not completed an assessment of their Y2K problem, yet 65% of them say their IT systems are "essential" to their organisation. A further 32% believe they are "important".

Every council felt it would have no problem obtaining "all the people you need" to help fix Y2K.

A total of 62% of councils claimed to have assessed the total cost of managing Y2K, yet all the councils contacted by Computerworld claimed to have done no work assessing the bill.

"If we spent our time doing that, we wouldn't have the staff available to do the actual work, so small is our time," says one manager.

The majority of councils have little communication with key suppliers or customers about Y2K progress within their organisations. Only 16% made contact on a "regular basis" while the rest made contact either spasmodically or not at all.

Of those councils that have responsibility for water and sewerage management, nearly half are relying on written or verbal assurances of compliance from manufacturers, while 27% of councils have tested fewer than 10% of their systems.

Nearly half the councils reported their water supply is dependent on power for pumping rather than gravity feed, yet over half of them would not answer a question asking "How long would you expect to maintain water services" in the event of a power outage. Half of the nation's waste-water systems are also dependent on power - again, 32% of councils refused to say how long they could last without power.

The good news is that 65% of councils have "identified the resources that may be required in the event of a failure of water and waste-water services". Whereas over half of that 65% have yet to secure those "external resources" they will need, such as generators, and 40% have to sort out the issue of "internal resources", ie staff and annual leave.

Labour's IT spokeswoman, Marian Hobbs, expressed concern over the report's findings.

"I have a great deal of respect for the work being done by Local Government New Zealand. They are really working hard to drive this issue, but the councils themselves do worry me a great deal." Hobbs says this is an issue where the public must be involved.

"Ring up your local council, ask them about their status, demand some answers and get involved."

Hobbs plans to ask MPs in each region to also push the local bodies into action. She believes the majority of the councils are relying too heavily on internal assessment of their readiness and that the government should demand they have independent audits done on their systems.

Mark Stonyer, chief adviser to longtime Y2K campaigner United MP Peter Dunne, believes the time is long past for councils to stop rejecting Y2K as a legitimate problem and get on with the job.

"We surveyed them two years ago and they were in an appalling state of affairs then and we got some bizarre answers and nothing seems to have changed much." He believes the time has come for councils to stop complaining about a lack of direction from central government and general uncertainty and start working on their contingency planning.

Maurice Williamson, in his report to cabinet on March 25 wrote to "relevant portfolio ministers reminding them of the importance of Y2K Preparedness and the need to ensure that agencies which come within their portfolios are able to demonstrate that the problem is being addressed satisfactorily". He is the minister for both Y2K and Local Body Authorities.

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