The sad costs of death – Improving Tell Us Once.

Tell Us Once is a great idea. It looks as if the government wants to help the relatives of those who have just died, and to be efficient at the same time.  I recently suggested it does not work out like that. Today I wish to explain a bit more of the details.

The first odd thing about Tell Us Once is someone registering a death with a Registrar is told about it at the end of the interview. Much of the data needed for Tell Us Once has been  collected and accepted by the Registrar, but he or she does not then press a button to save all that in Tell Us Once format, nor help the relative with the Tell Us Once declaration. Instead the person is issued with a website address and a unique access code and told to go home and go through the whole registration process again on their own, telling the computer what they have just told the Registrar and answering some extra questions about whether the person who has died was receiving benefits and a pension. This makes it Tell Us Twice. It can  also be difficult for the relative to do, as they may not know the financial details of the deceased. Surely the state, primed with the dead person’s National Insurance number, name, address and tax identifier knows what money it is sending the person?

The second odd thing is that not all parts of the government sign up to Tell Us Once. So if, for example, the deceased had a few premium bonds Tell Us Once would not help the relatives as National Savings are not in the system. Why can’t all parts of national and local government be in it?

The third odd thing is it may not work. The relative of the deceased may still get separate communications asking for information already supplied from the Tax authorities. Payments may still be made of pensions and benefits after the state knows the details of the death. Dead patients may stay on GP lists.

I have asked Ministers to look into this. I do so because I think grieving relatives deserve better. I have also done so because the current system  is a waste of taxpayers money, sending money to the deceased and then going through a complex process to get it back.

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What should a charity do?

Many charities do good work, helping people who need support and assistance.Educational charities provide some great education and assist the many who cannot afford fees where payment is required. Health and wellbeing charities offer the extras beyond those that can be afforded from the NHS and benefits system.

There are some other charities that see part of their role to be as a campaign organisation to press a government to do things. This is a more questionable use of charitable donations and the tax exemptions that go with them. Political parties and political think tanks cannot claim charitable exemption from tax. A think tank that wants tax exemption has to demonstrate party political neutrality and an emphasis on education and independence of view.

There is also a divide over money. Many good and successful charities have built up endowments. This enables them to maintain a decent and usually rising rate of spending, without having to raise money to pay the monthly bills.Other charities live hand to mouth, establishing large support organisations with people drawing salaries that requires continuous fund raising to pay the bills. In some cases it encourages aggressive techniques to get the money to meet the salaries of the staff raising the money. Sometimes well endowed charities get criticised for being “ rich” which seems odd. Given that all the money is held as a fund to pay future benefits to qualifying people and causes, surely it is good news that this has been guaranteed for future years by using the endowment model.

There is a growng concern about the charitable model that employs large nunmbers of well paid staff to fund raise and to demand that the government does something about their chosen area.Charities can attract a lot of volunteer talent or able people who understand rates of pay for a CEO of a charity will be lower than for a CEO of a competitive private sector business.

Charities also have to be careful not to compete using their tax free status as a competitve advantage against struggling private sector smaller businesses.

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The missing agenda

The government used conference to announce a few modest policies and spending plans. There was the much promoted ban on employers deducting money from tips, the freeze on fuel duty, £2 m for the Midlands Engine Partnership, a welcome £240 m extra for social care, future guidance on the maximum time young people should spend on social media, a higher rate of stamp duty for foreigners and a statutory duty for employers to consider flexible working for new jobs.

The financial items made no overall difference to a £2 trillion economy being slowed by a combined fiscal and monetary squeeze, which went undiscussed. The other big gap in proceedings was the absence of detailed positive plans department by department on how they are going to take advantage of Brexit from next April. We did have a confirmation again that the new migration policy will reduce numbers of people coming to seek low paid work or benefits, and will be fair to the whole world. But where was the detail? Where is the draft legislation so we can have it in law by March?

It was the caution, the refusal of the whole government to engage with the big picture and to show energy in using the new freedoms and the freed money which Brexit will bring which drove delegates from the main conference hall to the fringe. There on the fringe were the bold ideas, the bigger picture, the wish to grasp the opportunities Brexit brings. The irony was not lost on many that the single word slogan was Opportunity for the conference as a whole, but all too many cabinet Ministers chose not to take any of the opportunities on offer for our country as we leave the EU.

So lets have the agenda filled. Lets have a farming policy that promotes home grown food, a fishing policy that puts UK interests first, a borders policy that provides the law to back up the aspirations,spending policies that reflect popular priorities. Above all, lets have some tax cuts which can be the best driver of enterprise.

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“A once in a generation decision”

The UK government sent every household a leaflet about the EU referendum.

It has as its headline ” A once in a generation decision”. There was no mention of two votes or a second chance to decide. Nor do we need a second ballot.

It said about the decision to stay or leave “This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide”. It also made clear the government strongly recommended staying in, and warned that we could not stay part of the single market whilst leaving the EU.

Many of us voted Leave in good faith that if we won we would leave the EU and its single market, as we wished to do. We also voted secure in the knowledge that the government would implement our wishes and not expect us to vote twice.
We now want to get on with the benefits of leaving. We want the government to energetically pursue new trade deals with non EU countries. We want a new migration system that works for us. We want new fishing and farming policies that boost our home industries.

A Remain oriented Parliament has made heavy weather of honouring these government pledges, but has now reluctantly passed the EU Withdrawal Act. Taken together with the Article 50 letter which Parliament sent by an overwhelming majority, the UK has now done all it needs to do legally to leave on 29 March 2019.

A possible Chequers deal does not implement the wishes of the majority to leave, but looks unlikely to find favour either with the EU or with a significant number of Conservative MPs. Yesterday again at conference members of the party made crystal clear their dislike of Chequers and their wish to get on and leave quickly. There were large crowds for pro Brexit speakers at fringe meetings, and a muted response to Ministers pushing the government line. I urge the government to make clear to the EU that we are currently planning just to leave in accordance with the Acts passed and with the decision of the UK electorate. The sooner the EU believes this is what will happen, the sooner they will want to sort out those things about their continued access to the UK market that some worry about. In practice the UK government is not planning new barriers, but does need to get on with setting out its post 29 March tariff schedule which might provoke a wish to trade tariff free by the EU.

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A new vision for Conservatism – the party of higher pay and lower taxes

This will be part of what I say today at the Politeia meeting at Conference:

As we leave the EU it falls to the Conservative party to set out a new vision for our country.

We voted leave to belong to a confident outward looking UK, trading with the whole world, with friends in all continents.

We voted leave to spend our own money on our priorities. The £39bn we save if we just leave in March 2019 can provide a great boost to our public services, and to take home pay from suitable tax cuts

We voted leave to limit the numbers coming to our country, to create more better paid jobs for those already settled here

We voted leave to take back control of our fishing grounds and our farms, so we can produce more of our own food, cutting food miles and the import bills

We voted leave to make our own laws, so we can have high standards in areas like employment where that matters, and business friendly approaches where we need to boost enterprise and encourage more small businesses

The Conservative government needs to set out an agenda to modernise government. Applying new technology can raise standards of service and cut costs. Buying the best from the UK when we no longer have to apply EU procurement rules can lead to partnerships between government and business at home that are mutually beneficial. Pursuing the agenda of educational reform to raise standards and widen opportunity is crucial.

The Conservative party should be the party of higher pay and lower taxes.

Higher pay comes from working smarter. That requires more training, more support and more career progression for the many.

Our educational revolution has to equip and energise people to set up their own businesses or to promote the best interests of the customers of the company they work for.

Higher pay comes from harnessing modern technology, excellence in customer service, and high performance from well trained people supported by excellent machinery and artificial intelligence back up.

All this is so much easier if we take back control next March and free our budget to get on with stimulating our economy.

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The problems with socialism

Some socialists start with the best of intentions.

They say, let’s pass a law to cut the prices of basics so people can be better off.

If they do it too much businesses stop providing the goods and supermarket shelves empty.

They say, let’s tax the rich more to give money to the poor.

If they do that too much the rich take their money and their businesses, their jobs and their ideas, to a country which taxes less.

They say let’s take over profitable businesses, so we can use the profits to pay for public services

Once they’ve taken them over they usually starve them of investment and talent, driving great industries into loss and sacking employees to balance the books

They say let’s just print some money to give more to the poor

That way leads to more inflation, often leaving the very people they wanted to help worse off, unable to afford the basics.

This is something we can learn from our history books

Labour’s great nationalised industries sacked hundreds of thousands of people, lumbered taxpayers with huge losses and failed to serve the customer well.

Labour’s big spending sprees led to too much borrowing, to sterling crises and to high inflation

The final ignominy came when their policy meant the UK had to beg for a loan from the IMF, an organisation designed to help poor countries, as the country struggled from recession to recession

Labour’s tax assault on success led to the brain drain, as energetic and able people moved abroad.

This is also something we can learn again today by looking at poor Venezuela.

Mr Corbyn heralded the government of Venezuela as a new way, an alternative to the capitalism he hates in free western societies.

Thanks to laws cutting prices,to nationalisation, printing money , high taxes and state control, the economy is in collapse.

The rich and the not so rich are rushing across the border to get away from the regime that torments them

The nationalised oil industry produces precious little oil despite the huge size of the reserves, starved of capital and good management

Supermarket shelves are largely empty, with companies unwilling to make and trade in such a damaged economy

The poor have been given large increases in benefits, only to end up worse off as inflation soars to make their money almost valueless

The state keeps spending money it does not have, so inflation surges making trading almost impossible.

The UK must say No to such a dreadful diet of policies.

We can offer a much better alternative.

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It’s not just in time for the customer

For the last forty years I have bought UK manufactured cars, ordering a new one to replace an older vehicle at regular intervals. I have always found plenty of choice and usually liked the products I have bought.

I do, however, find the UK based industry’s continued arguments about Just in time bizarre. As I have pointed out, the government has no plans to create additional delays at ports for imported components. There is an even more curious thing about the industry’s belief in Just in time. It does not extend to the customer.

In April I contacted my local car showroom to ask when I needed to place an order for a new replacement car for September delivery. The last time it had taken six months. They told me I was too early so I asked them to contact me when they needed the order. On June 1 st I was invited in to sign up and pay the deposit. The deposit was taken in good time to help their cash flow, well before they committed any cash to the build. I was then told that the car would not be available until November, as they has misjudged their future production schedules. In July I was advised that the car would be available in the second half of October, and in early September I was advised it would be available mid October.

One of the advantages of Just in Time systems is the factory should be able to plan its output well in advance and plan exactly when it will build any individual car, yet I have experienced variation over more than a month of time in their forecast of build date.

All this reminds us that the absolute precision some now expect in Just in Time supply chains is not a reality within the single market. Just in Time is miles off extending to customers, and factories flex their production with delays of a month or more for the customer. The customer has to pay a deposit well in advance, and is left wondering exactly when they will get delivery of the new vehicle. I am not suggesting this is some hardship for the customer, merely pointing out that people are exaggerating massively the timeliness of current production of vehicles within the EU single market. The fact that a component may spend a few more hours in a traffic jam on the A34 is clearly not mission critical when the customer has been told to wait another month. And that is something they have to deal with whilst we are still in the EU. Some components today come in from outside the EU and come on a long sea journey, but planning still allows them to fit into a JIT system. All JIT systems have to hold buffer stocks for contingencies or “events”. A current EU/UK supply chain damaged by French strike action at the ports for example, may have to turn to the expensive Plan B of flying components in.

So here are a few questions for the Just in Time worriers

1. Why cant Just in Time systems deliver cars at a specified date for a customer that is quite soon after order placement?
2. How do you currently cope with traffic jams, lorry delays, port hold ups today, and why do you think it will be any worse after we have left?
3. What new barriers to entry are you expecting at Dover or Southampton, given the government has not proposed any?
4. Don’t you have to allow plenty of time for the difficulties of road or sea transport today on complex supply chains?
5. How do all those Chinese goods get into the UK in good time to meet UK customer orders, given that China is not a member of the EU?
6. Why is the UK car industry having difficulty meeting customer orders in a timely way whilst we are still in the EU and when UK car demand has been hit by UK government tax policy?

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Just in time production

Let me remind people about Just in time (JIT). I have run JIT systems for a UK factory. Our complex supply chain included components coming in from non EU sources as well as from EU sources. There were no special problems with the non EU components. The supply chain included components coming long distance by sea. Every JIT supply chain manager makes allowance for transport problems, and builds in usual delays that can come from traffic jams, bad weather at sea, delayed flights and the rest. The UK supply chain from the continent is more prone to delays from traffic congestion and road accidents than from port delays. The government should do more to improve transport capacity on our road system to assist Just in Time manufacturing. If we leave with no deal and impose customs duties these can be collected electronically without extra delay at the port. As Next has made clear in its recent Brexit statement, currently in the EU exporters selling more than £250,000 into the rest of the EU a year and importers buying more than £1.5m a year from the EU already have to complete a full Intrastat form, which is very similar to the detail needed for a customs form, so when we leave if we leave with customs dues these can draw electronically on the same information without added time and cost. All Authorised Economic Operators importing and exporting can and do settle customs electronically away from the border, as they settle VAT today on trade within the EU.

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Will the government confirm it is not planning new barriers at the ports to delay components coming in?

The Business Secretary should reassure Toyota and others there are no plans for new delays at our ports once we have left the EU. The UK should want to continue to offer every help to get imported parts in to meet production schedules.

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Digital services

Many people like their smart phones and small computers. Many large companies are keen to get us to transact on the internet, pressing us to bank on line, have on line accounts for our utilities, to shop on line and receive advice on line. There is a pressure to go further, with more robo advice, greater use of artificial intelligence, and more activity from our sitting room chair. If enough people do it the large company saves on High Street property and on contact staff. Done really well, the error rate could go down as more fail safe methods are built into computer programmes. Some say there is some evidence that able professionals assisting computer experts to record their expertise in the form of computer programmes and algorithims can set up higher quality and more consistent service than if individual professionals do it on a personal basis. The computer, if properly programmed , has the best and latest professional view and will apply the rules consistently, unswayed by the individual client.

I think there is a lot of merit in new technology. Government is slow to adapt, but it could make a difference there, cutting costs and improving service. The computer can provide the service 7 days a week 24 hours day, needs no holidays and doesn’t take sick leave. A well run system can be constantly improved and flexed to cut error and incorporate best practise. Some of the cost savings can be passed on to the consumer. We should anticipate more offers we cannot refuse to go digital, more artificial intelligence, and more computer involvement and assistance in our daily lives.

There are, however, still a good number of bugs in the systems that annoy or could prove damaging. The very same systems that give you a flexible ability to buy and to get advice and help at the press of a mouse are vulnerable to cyber attack. There has been a rash of thefts from people’s savings through fraudulent emails, instructions and diversions of money and other financial assets from on line accounts. There have been a number of damaging interruptions to service when a whole bank is no longer able to service customers and move money in its accounts. The computer may not be having time off, but the computer or the communications systems it relies on can crash and leave people without money or access. As the efforts of companies to defeat cyber criminals intensify, so the routines people need to go through to prove their ID and to authorise a transaction become that more complex. We are all suffering from password fatigue, with a plethora of passwords needed to get us through our daily routines. To improve security you need to have all different passwords, with nothing obvious or memorable, and regularly changed. Different systems anyway require different numbers of letters, numbers, punctuation and other symbols, and require different schedules for changing them.

There are also limitations to algorithms and pre programmed advice. The computer’s decision is only as good as the information the client or patient puts in, and that may be determined by the form provided electronically to put in the facts, and narrowed by the computer’s ability to understand the information. Computers do not yet do body language, read between the lines, or ask the left field question if suspicious that the person is not giving them the full story in the way a person can do.

There is plenty of talent going into the digital world trying to proxy more of the characteristics of people in the way machines and computers respond. As they do so they come to appreciate the enormous complexity and sophistication of the human muscle system and the human mind. We are still some way away from having great robots to do the dusting or peeling potatoes, as these require good hand eye co-ordination and sensitivity to the objects being dealt with.

The revolution will press on, and new generations of machines will encompass new skills. The machine has largely taken over the modern factory, but has not yet offered a value for money way of doing most of the housework. Computers help business churn out invoices, delivery documents, sales campaigns and the rest,but that still leaves most of the management and vision of the business to people. Government needs to apply more technology to its own processes so they are available longer hours, are more accurate and more productive. It also needs to make sure the UK is the right environment for education, training and development of small and new businesses, so we can be at the leading edge of this innovation wave.

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  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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