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Cowboy computer glitch blamed for construction slump

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The Government has coughed to yet another computer error that led to 66,500 building firms being wiped off official records used to compile key economic figures.

The cowboy bodge led to a massive under-recording of output from the UK's construction sector at the beginning of 2003 suggesting that activity in the sector had slumped. The full extent of the error wasn't fully identified until the end of September 2004 - 18 months after the snafu was made.

The Government's IT system should have gathered data from round 170,000 construction firms in the UK to give an insight into the sector's activity. Thanks to the cock-up, 66,500 firms were excluded leaving economists scratching their heads as to why £500m had been wiped out from the economy and fears of a sharp downturn in the building industry.

Said the Government report: "It turns out that the estimated fall in construction output during Q1 2003 was due to a fault in the computer processing of construction firm data at that time.

"An apparently very modest change to a computer programme produced a large, and at the time unforeseen, impact on the computer record of construction firms." ®

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