Public Sector + IT = fail

I had to deal with a lot of online bureaucracy yesterday, sorting out things like degree transcripts and photo driving licences for going overseas. What is it with public sector IT departments and their complete inability to get anything remotely right?

First trial was trying to get a copy of my degree transcript from Edinburgh Uni to send to prospective employers in Japan and Thailand. Surely a simple task? Well, yes and no. I made it to the end of the ordering process in one piece but my god, was it ever annoying. You have to enter your basic details so they can find your transcript and the last entry on the form is your standard “Any other information?” textbox. The thing is they’ve made that a required field so you actually have to type in “none” or whatever else you like (an abusive message to the designers perhaps?) to let them know that you have no special requirements.

After that is the address stage. Now this one can be a joy thanks to the multiple address formats we’re saddled with in this country. I live at flat 6, 1 Cannonball’s Street and that can variously be rendered as 1/6 C Street, 6 1 C Street 2F1 1 C Street, or various other combos. I typically go with 1/6 C Street as this seems to be the most commonly accepted format but the University site doesn’t like that ‘/’ character. I could live with that if it wasn’t for the fact that it doesn’t tell you this till after you’ve entered it and hit submit! That’s right, it just decided to delete the forward slash and change my address to 16 C Street. Lucky I caught it in time or my transcript would be winging its way to the wrong house.

The last one is just a small niggle. The address section has a drop-down list of countries and I duly selected ‘United Kingdom’ after my usual futile search for ‘Scotland’. The omission of my country from the list annoys me but I’m used to it now. What really got my goat was that on the confirmation page, where you check all your details, my country of residence was listed as ‘Great Britain’. That is SOOOO not the same as the United Kingdom. Eedjits. I thought they were meant to be a university, don’t they have a fucking geography department?

Anyhoo, I bottled my rage up in that special place down by my stomach (getting kinda hot down there recently) and moved on to my next task, exchanging my current paper driving licence for the new photocards. I say ‘new’ but it’s pretty old now, just that I avoided it for ages on grounds of civil liberties, governmental incompetence, etc. Unfortunately it’s going to be mighty handy overseas so I have to bow down to our privacy-intruding overlords and bite the ID card bullet.

Thankfully the DVLA have decided to make the transition easy for me – according to the website I can conduct the whole process online. Not only that but I don’t even have to send them a photo, they can access the digitally stored copy of the photo I used for my passport! Bonus!

Except they’re fucking liars.

I duly trudged through the application process, ignoring the fact that it insists that one of my previous addresses has a different postcode from its actual one, and after about 10 minutes I reach the light at the end of the tunnel. Only to be told that I now have to send in a passport-sized photo as well as printing out a form, signing it and sending it to them as well. How the fuck is that online? Why did they lie to me? What possible purpose can that little white lie have served?

No point complaining though so I resign myself to doing the necessary. Unfortunately there’s no printer in the flat so I have to continue the process at work and I think no problem, I’ll just log in to the system again. I’ve already selected a bulletproof password and given three utterly unguessable security questions, all I need now is for them to tell my to use my email address as a username. That makes sense, right?


I’m now the proud owner of a “Government Gateway ID”, a 12-digit number which I have to either memorise or get tattooed on my wrist if I ever want to access my info online. What the fuck? Why should I need this useless damn ID? I already have a unique email address which I use every day and therefore have no trouble memorising. My password and security questions are secure. What further level of securty does this offer? I’ll tell you how much safer it makes me – exactly fuck all safer, just more annoyed and convinced that most government employees would have trouble operating a calculator, let alone a PC.

Ach hell with it, not worth getting the blood pressure up for. Going for lunch with an ex-colleague and then viewing the Iron Maiden documentary on Blu-Ray at a friend’s house tonight, on a massive projector screen no less. And savouring a selection of gourmet ciders while we’re at it. Win.


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