The government is good at something!

Last week I had to renew my tax disc for the car. I received a notification that I could now find an easy way to pay the new rip off levels of the tax. I rang the number late one evening. It proved as easy as advertised. The cash was taken from me effortlessly over the phone. I was not kept hanging on, nor did I have to listen to endless multiple choices requiring me to dial some other number. The new tax disc came by return of post well before the month end.

This week I received a follow up card. It told me I still had enough days left to pay my tax disc. If I had not already done so, I should try the new friendly phone line or the web pages, available any time of the day or night. If I had by any chance already paid I was to ignore this card. It was no marks for the system picking up quickly that the tax had been paid, but full marks for persistence, and fulll marks for ensuring the maximum take as quickly as possible.

It leads one to ask, if this government can be good at taxing us, why can’t it show similar skill and customer awareness when delivering services?If you want to contact a government department or many a Council department about what they are meant to be doing for you, you need to try in the minority of hours during the day when there is meant to be someone there. So often you are left hanging on, being told you are in queue. You may face ordeal by multiple choice, be lectured by a computer,or be told that all call lines are busy. If you do get through to a person, you may discover there is some other reason your query cannot be dealt with.

No wonder people are so cynical about government. It is good at taking the money off us, but so bad at spending it for us and providing value. There is one level of competence at milking us, and a far lower one for everything else.

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12 Comments

  1. Colin D.
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    It is somewhat ironic that the DVLC has been offering cars as prizes if you renew over the Internet. What we therefore have is one Government department actually incenting us NOT to use the local post office and whilst other parts of Government pretend they are trying to keep them open.

  2. Steve Cox
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I recently had to change my address and swap my paper licence for a plastic card. The former action is free, but the latter costs £20, so as I was doing them both at the same time I included a cheque. Just over a week later I received my new licence and the cheque was returned, with a note saying that the service was free. I’ve felt quite happy with the DVLA ever since. 🙂 Please don’t anyone tell Gordon, or I’m sure he will either have someone’s head at DVLA, or else send a squad of goons to beat the twenty quid out of me.

  3. Mick Anderson
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Government might have a never ending number of ways of taking money from us, but most of them are rather inefficient.

    In the case of road tax – rough calculations suggest that I use about 1500 litres of fuel to drive 12000 miles a year. I’ve just renewed road tax at £190. This is the equivalent of £0.125 extra duty on a litre of fuel. Consider that around £0.80 of the current £1.05 per litre cost of fuel goes in tax already, and it doesn’t seem so bad.

    I’d far rather have the duty on fuel raised to replace road tax. This means that we don’t need an expensive mechanism to collect road tax, there is no way to use a car and avoid the tax, and we would no longer have to suffer the patronising adverts on TV reminding us to pay.

    There used to be an argument to say that the tax disc was proof that you had an MOT and insurance on your car. However, the Police ANPR systems tell them if a car has a current MOT and insurance, so the annual document inspection is irrelevant.

    It also means that the more fuel your car burns per mile, the more tax you pay. It’s a completely linear tax as to the amount of pollution you generate, and even takes into account the amount of extra emissions you might generate in a traffic jam.

    Perhaps it would also help encourage people not to commute long distances by car. They would either be encouraged to travel by public transport, car share, or work closer to home. Yes, I know that it hasn’t worked so far with the ridiculous “fuel escalators” we have had to suffer in fuel taxation, but that’s always been an insidious creeping up. A straight-forward change in the way the tax worked would concentrate people’s minds wonderfully!

    The cost of this tax would then effectively be spread throughout the year, rather than another large financial outgoing once or twice a year.

    I’m not suggesting that the tax take from the average driver should increase. In fact, the saving on the inefficiency should mean that the money saved is offset against the increase. Perhaps this would mean only an extra £0.10 or £0.08 per litre – a net saving for most people, without the Government losing any income at all.

    As for the transport industry, there is no reason whey they should not be able to contract to buy fuel in bulk at a reduced rate, so they are not unduly penalised by a higher fuel duty. Also, don’t raise the fuel on LPG – something that the transport industry is much more able to take advantage of than the ordinary motorist.

  4. Lola
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    “It is good at taking the money off us, but so bad at spending it for us and providing value. There is one level of competence at milking us, and a far lower one for everything else.”

    It was ever thus. Throughout history wherever and whenever governments have successfully centralised power they have set about extracting money from citizens by coercion and compulsion and ultimately violence. There is only one way of stopping this – very (and I meand very) small government.

  5. no one
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    ha ha

    im pretty certain its outsourced to capita like the TV licence is?

    not much of the public sector involved

  6. Mike Stallard
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Yup.
    It is good to see an MP living like the rest of us in the real world. Well done!

  7. oldtimer
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Yes, this is one piece of IT that works well. And if your car needs an MOT it checks that you have had one before sending the tax disc.

  8. Jalban
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Indeed. But why do we still need a paper tax disc in the car window at all? The only people who ever check it are the police and they can send your licence plate number to Swansea over the radio and verify whether you’ve paid your tax in a matter of seconds. What purpose does the disc in the window fulfil exactly?

    Rather ironic:- the new system is wonderfully efficient (I used the internet and agree). But abolishing it would have been more efficient – and rather more cost-effective!

  9. Claudius
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    The TV licensing people are similarly persistent; advise them that the prior occupant of your house has moved, and they will still send letters to your address.

  10. alan jutson
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Yes it does work, but did you not have to pay £2.50 extra for using a credit card !!!!!!

    Out of principle I always go to the Post Office.

    The reason, if we do not use it, we lose it.

    Stupid Tax anyway, much better if all tax was on fuel, then those that use the roads the most pay the most.

    Those that use thirsty cars out of choice pay more tax.

    Yes I drive a 4×4 as well. !!!!!

    Unless you steal fuel, there can be no dodgers, (so tax take goes up) so the complete cost of enforcement , and tax disc renewal can be abolished.

    Result Immediate cut in Public expenditure.

  11. Kerrie
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    I have to agree about the speed and efficiency of the online road tax renewal, and all the comments about ditching it for an increase in fuel duty, but why have they got it so wrong with the tv licence? There is a unique number on the renewal form, but this is made irrelevant by the system requiring all the information to be re-entered. It makes me so angry that I refuse to renew online and go to the Post Office instead.

  12. Peter
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    I had to smile at you praising the DVLA for the manner in which they collected your road tax.

    For nearly two years I had tried to get them to understand that they should follow the practises of other state collection agencies and send timely reminders to those who had not responded to the initial demand. They steadfastly refused to countenance such a move. From what you say, they have now adopted this commonsense approach. One has to wonder why it has taken them so long.

    The bigger question is why the DVLA is not privatised. They have a staffing level in excess of 7000 (seven thousand people!) and this figure excludes the thousands of man hours that Post Offices contribute to their key clerical functions.

    Given that theirs is essentially a record keeping exercise, they should be fully computerised by now, and one would have thought that the head count would have decreased markedly over the years. Instead we have seen the classic beauracratic ballooning of staff levels at yet another state establishment masquerading as a properly run commercial enterprise..

    I am baffled as to why the NAO have not pushed for this ’agency’ to be sold off more forcefully in the past. If nothing else ,an open tendering process would soon reveal the potential take to the Exchequer and save the taxpayer the cost of keeping all these people employed. Perhaps it is something an incoming Conservative Government will consider.

    Mind you whither Swansea if the populous had to face the harsh realities of finding work in the private sector?

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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