The Problem with Test and Trace

This recent BBC article shines a rather sad light on the state of our community. There’s no excuse for rudeness, but I think we’ve reached this point due to a number of escalating issues that the government chooses never to address.

Scam Callers

There are real challenges in dealing with scam calls. I receive around 2-3 a day, some weeks (others not so much). Every call is using either a faked or a VoIP landline number for an obscure location, like the Outer Hebrides. No-one ever leaves a voicemail. The same challenge happens with withheld numbers. 99% of them are scam callers.

Fixing the problem of scam calls should be easy. However, the government chooses not to crack down and the old solutions such as Telephone Preference Service (TPS) don’t apply to overseas “boiler rooms”. Caller-ID should be easy to trace and align to certified numbers. After all, we do it today with website URLs and DNS names. The industry could solve this problem.


Many people will be happy offering their data to the T&T service, knowing that it could help virus spread and reduce lives. Unfortunately, there’s little or no transparency from the government on how the data will be used.

This page provides some great detail on the way in which T&T should work. However the data protection statements are incredibly vague and don’t explain basics such as how long data is retained and who will have access to the data itself. The government needs to do more to build confidence in the system.


Then we get to the biggest challenge – competency. A few months ago we learned that the T&T system uses spreadsheets to share data, and even then is using them in the wrong way, probably due to old ODBC code that uses XLS rather than XLSX format.

When we’re promised a “world beating” system that’s eye watering in expense (£22 billion as quoted in November 2020), then we really deserve something better than the terrible app and the inefficient call handling system that we’ve received. While the £7000 a day figure might not be entirely accurate (more on that in a moment), the average person watching TV will wonder how on earth a government can justify such spending for so little in return.


A lot of revelations will likely appear in the months and years following the COVID-19 outbreak. I’m sure we’ll hear of collusion and favouritism in awarding contracts (and jobs), like we’ve seen already. By the time the investigations are complete, the MPs in question (and many companies) will be retired or dissolved. None of this builds trust with the general public.

The Final Reckoning

Governments don’t like to be called to account. This is especially true in the UK, but hasn’t been the case globally, where we’ve seen countries like New Zealand coming out of COVID-19 much earlier than the rest of the world. Geography helps there, but transparency, honesty and trust are the biggest winners. If there has to be a “lessons learned” exercise, it will be to understand that without trust and the respect that requires and earns, the UK and other similar countries will never be the leaders in resolving future pandemics.