Nov 2007 21

The Inland Revenue fiasco will go down in the history books as one of the most unbelievable acts of incompetence by a British government.  It does, though, give us a prime example to use in our campaigns on the merits of low taxes and smaller, better government.

Firstly, small government is necessary.  To those who think that government knows best, show them the level of incompetence it took to lose 25,000,000 private records full of sensitive information.  Now transfer this to public service delivery.  Can, or should, the government be the sole provider of services given that it is so prone to managerial mistakes and human error?  As the sole provider of a service, when the state fails, we suffer and a great majority live without the option of transferring our custom to another provider in health and education.  Therefore we can add the Inland Revenue failure to our list of reasons to support public service reform and liberalisation of state services.

Secondly, the government shouldn’t have so much information on us.  As George Osborne and others were quick to point out yesterday, this is a key reason why the ID Cards system should be scrapped before yet more sensitive information is handed over to the government and potentially lost in the post. 

Finally, this also gives us added impetus to call for reform of the benefits system.  In having to hand over our personal information in exchange for benefits, we run the risk of falling victim to benefit fraud.  Rather if the government raised the personal tax threshold and cut taxes on the individual, the worst off would be taken out of tax and therefore not have to apply for benefits or hand over their personal, private information.

Over the past ten years government has got bigger and sought to do more.  Usually we highlight instances and minor examples of waste when contrasted with the big picture.  The Inland Revenue debacle, however, allows us once again to make the big picture arguments, that small government is necessary; a government that works best because it does less.

Nov 2007 21

SmallbluebinMelting ice caps?  Drought?  Global Warming?  Fear not because Southwark Council are coming to the rescue.  Feel free to roll your eyes at yet another local government non-job using taxpayers’ money to appease a guilty conscience.

Southwark Council this week have four jobs aimed at ‘tackling’ climate change.  I use inverted commas precisely because these jobs will hardly tackle climate change.  More likely these jobs will preach from Al Gore’s green handbook all the while diverting scarce resources from frontline services, listed on the Southwark Council website as street cleaning, flood defence etc. 

Previously we’ve had these green jobs as our non-job of the week because local government won’t stop greenhouse emissions or the like when China is building a coal power station every week. 

So our non-job of the week comes from Southwark council:

Sustainable Learning Manager
£27,807 – £32,961

Are you ready to conduct detailed analysis and drive high profile projects against climate change? Can you build on the track record established by our Energy Team?

Leading and inspiring a number of Sustainable Services Officers, you will bring our Education for Sustainable Development Strategy to life. This will involve overseeing educational provision within schools, building positive relationships with Junior Streetleaders and “Young Friends Of…” groups and engaging young people from every walk of life to share your passion for environmental issues. So as you can imagine, we need a real self-starter with a great personality and the ability to devise learning experiences that are fun, involving and closely linked to the National Curriculum.

Working with communities, hard to reach groups and external agencies should be second nature to you, and you will be capable of producing world class publicity material, managing high profile initiatives and controlling significant budgets. Most importantly, you’re an innate leader with everything it takes to encourage recycling, responsible waste management and the cultivation of biodiversity – and you’re ready to make your mark from day one.”

Just for comparison sake, a band D property in Southwark pays £1,180.94 council tax a year.  Are you in Southwark, are you getting value for money?  Let us know by leaving a comment below or contacting us.

Also get involved, write to the Southwark local paper and tell them we want our money put to local services, not green ‘education’:

Please send your letters by:
Post: Unit A302, Tower Bridge Business Complex, Clement’s Road, London, SE16 4DG
Email: [email protected]
Fax: 020 7237 1578
All letters should include a street address.

Nov 2007 21

Just watch the vid. Five months may be a lifetime in politics, but you can’t mistake the enthusiasm of Treasury civil servants for Gordon Brown as he leaves them for No 10.

Your correspondent was at the Treasury during the years of Healey and Howe. There is no way such scenes would have taken place then. Still less would the TV cameras have been invited in to broadcast them.

Back then we were naive: we genuinely believed we were somehow above politics. As my first Permanent Secretary (Sir William Pile, now administering upstairs) explained to us new entrants in 1973, our job was to stop the politicians doing anything too stupid.

What’s my point?

Brown replaced the top Treasury civil servants with political appointees. Ed Balls was the most egregious appointment, as Chief Economic Advisor, but who can forget the way he got rid of the Treasury press office and replaced them with Charlie Whelan?

It set the tone. Brown wasn’t in the market for old-style Sir Humphrey "stop them doing anything stupid" advice. He wanted "can do".

Thus we find ourselves here. Wildly complex new tax systems, HMRC and Inland Revenue banged together whatever, massive staff cuts imposed irrespective, huge new IT systems dropped down from on high at the same time, crackpot new "lean" car factory working methods dreamed up by consultants.

Nobody it seems had the motivation or nerve to point out it couldn’t all be done without huge risk. And if they did, they presumably didn’t last long.

This catastrophe is the inevitable result of Brown’s top-down blunderbuss management style. Surrounded by yes-men, he pushed ahead whatever the consequences.

And now we’re paying the price.

PS Later today, we’ll do another blog on the Gershon staff cuts. Because this isn’t the only case where they’ve been implicated in masssive and expensive problems.

Nov 2007 20

The Conservatives have today set out plans for a supply side "revolution" in education. Below are the proposals:

"Provide over 220,000 new school places. That would meet the demand from every parent who lost their appeal for their first choice school in our most deprived boroughs.

"Allow educational charities, philanthropists, livery companies, existing school federations, not for profit trusts, co operatives and groups of parents to set up new schools in the state sector and access equivalent public funding to existing state schools.

"Ensure funding for deprivation goes direct to the pupils most in need rather than being diverted by bureaucracies.

"Divert more resources to pupils who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, ensuring they get the earliest possible opportunity to choose the best schools and enjoy the best teaching.

"Make it easier to establish the extended schooling (from summer schools through Saturday schooling to homework clubs and breakfast clubs) which drives up achievement, especially among the poorest.

"Remove those obstacles in terms of centralised bureaucracy, local authority restrictions and planning rules – which prevent new schools being established.

"Allow smaller schools and more intimate learning environments to be established to respond to parental demands."

Interesting ideas, particulaly the one to "allow educational charities, philanthropists, livery companies,
existing school federations, not for profit trusts, co operatives and
groups of parents to set up new schools in the state sector and access
equivalent public funding to existing state schools."

That is exactly what is needed. It has worked spectacularly in Sweden and it will work in Britain. Existing schools, in competition with the new schools for the first time, will be forced to raise standards. Parents in the most deprived areas of Britain, for the first time, will have a real chance to send their children to a better school.

There were also a number of more immediate proposals to improve standards, most of which are unlikely to make much difference as they are of the same centralised mindset that has failed so spectacularly in the past. But no matter, the best way to drive up standards in existing schools is the threat of competition, which will trump other measures.

So all in all, a good move. Fraser Nelson also has some interesting comments on Coffee House.

Nov 2007 20

It is hard to really get your head around just how complete the failure at the HMRC today is in losing the unencrypted records of 25 million recipients of child benefit.  These records include names, addresses, national insurance data and even bank account details.  There are a few things to remember about this:

  1. It is a collosal failure of management for supposedly junior staff to be able to so easily extract such large quantities of highly sensitive data.  Even worse that any of the HMRC’s staff were not aware of how vitally important it is to treat data on the public with real care.
  2. Measures being taken by the banks to ensure that accounts are not exposed to fraud by this measure should prevent money being stolen but won’t prevent the data being used for mass identity-theft if it does fall into the hands of criminals.
  3. HMRC has been put under huge institutional strain by the need to implement an incredibly complex tax credits system.  This new crisis could easily be the unintended consequence of failures in other Government policies implemented by the HMRC.
  4. This will further damage trust in the Government’s ability to protect public data.  This should mark the end of any attempts to collect vast amounts of new data.  Plans for identity cards should be abandoned.
  5. It will also further weaken people’s faith in interacting with major institutions electronically.  More might feel the need to, for example, suffer the inconvenience associated with not having a bank account.  If people are scared into keeping their money in cash instead of in a bank this could even create medium term problems for the banking sector.
  6. While banks will cover any money taken in fraud thanks to this incident, ordinary bank-customers will not lose out.  However, if that happens banks might well have good cause to pursue the government – whose incompetence created this problem – for compensation.  If this lost data were to be used to take money from bank accounts fraudulently the taxpayer could wind up paying the bill.

Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:

“It’s appalling that Revenue and Customs were so careless with the personal details entrusted to them. Taxpayers should have the right to be confident that their personal details are safe and secure, especially given the growing problem of identity theft. The incompetent way in which data is handled by HMRC will horrify everyone and 25 million individuals, families and businesses have had their trust betrayed. Secretaries of State are responsible for all the actions of their Department, so Alistair Darling should be seriously considering his position tonight.”

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