Excel at it Again - UK Government Covid Reporting Errors

For our non UK friends, we’ve just written this and wanted to share with you:

We find it completely unbelievable, with the pressure the pandemic brings and the money that it is being thrown at, that the test and trace, and government reporting systems has been reliant on date entry into Microsoft Excel.

Not only that, the versions of Excel in use were so out of date that they could not take more than 14,000 entries and thousands of positive Covid results were not reported.

The lack of validation and data structure of any spreadsheet shouldn’t be relied on for any company critical information, let alone by a national government.

This seems to highlight the problems of very large organisations compared to the agility and energy of small passionate businesses who would frankly find this type of news laughable, if it wasn’t so important.

This is being reported as a ‘technical glitch’, when it should be reported as incompetence.


Andy as you probably know - the UK Government has one of the poorest records of IT competence anywhere in the world. An over reliance on frameworks, standards and outside consultants has resulted in solutions that are not fit for purpose.

The tendering process basically excludes any small innovative businesses from penetrating the closed internal market within Government - they are basically controlled by the the giant consultancy agencies like Capita, Serco et al.

This over reliance wastes £B of pounds every year, delivers solutions incapable of meeting the needs of the departments and rely on many more millions of further investment and lock in to support.

We should unite and make a big looking firm and bid on it!

Not sure even with our collective might we would have a chance. Many of these contracts are awarded to approved suppliers many of whom have links to Government MP's who have family on the board of the supplier like Serco.

I have worked on numerous projects for local authorities over the years - never again. It's an absolute shit-storm of incompatibility, red tape, lack of ownership and general incompetence.

Forgive my language!

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Sounds familiar. They’re still dealing with Phoenix here. Although most public servants are getting paid on time now, errors and back pay are still due to many, 4 years after! Plus when they will receive it (with interest) they will have to pay a higher tax bracket for that year because of the huge bump! A costly mess.

UK is not alone with poor IT systems. In Canada, Province of Québec, the Health system transfers data using . . . faxes :crazy_face:. The reason given is that it's more secure than emails :open_mouth:.


actual lol here.

Mark, I could not have summed it up better.

I couldn’t believe it when they refused help with PPE from UK based small businesses, but once again headed off to big suppliers in China. They are not geared up for it and would rather empty their coffers to companies or people who already have a poor track record.

It has always been ‘jobs for the boys’ and particularly helps if you happen to have an Eton education. It is always so easy to spend other people’s (tax payers) money and has always been the case.

Anyway, we will get an opportunity to help, as they are going to tax the heck out of us from next year onwards.

The joys of living in Britain :weary:

Imagine lots of small FileMaker databases with structured easy to enter forms that used a RESTful API to upload to the central system.

The main technical glitch with that would be ‘it works!’. LOL


Sigh. I've told my older kids (I have 6!) who are all on or just embarking on the University journey to take their expertise, knowledge and passion and leave this hellhole for pastures new. The UK is in for a VERY rough ride over the next 20 years.

Everyone of them wants to leave for a place where their education will be appreciated.

Maybe a little idealistic but the reality of the situation facing the UK (mainly England to be fair to our compatriots in Scotland, Wales and NI) is becoming clearer every day.

Honestly I spend most of my time nowadays just sighing.

Britain got talents !

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Ah, but Boris and Brexit will put the ‘Great’ back into Britain :joy:

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Just read the article on The Register - wow!
The problem is the same in all countries: government contracts the big boys (those who have people hanging around in parliament lobby). They never break the business down in manageable chunks that can be handled my more and smaller IT businesses. All eggs in the same basket is now considered as a clever strategy...

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Sunlit uplands on the horizon.

Ps am I doing this right?

Saw this follow up: A decades-old lesson on not inserting Excel where it doesn't belong • The Register

Reminds me of a story from many years ago within the City of London where a New Zealander was doing the Australasian walkabout and got a temporary job at a main clearing bank. While he was there he wrote a VB based system to assist with some processes.

A while later (years) this thing was still in place and failed. They had to trace him back to, and fly him from New Zealand as nobody knew how it worked and the failure stopped all international currency transactions until he’d returned and fixed it.


Very amusing. :grinning:

There's probably room on the web for a site devoted to Excel war stories.


Good grief. https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-more-than-1-000-consultants-from-deloitte-on-test-and-trace-programme-12099127

Ah. Accountants. That’s why they are using Excel :joy:

Accountants are, well, accountants. They should never, NEVER, be implied in IT decisions. Unfortunately they are :sob:.