The Treasury incompetence is in this government’s DNA

Many people today have woken up to the news that this government is incompetent. For the first time many have had the scales taken from their eyes, as the dreadful truth sinks home that this time the government’s incompetence has left them personally vulnerable.

Every family in the land now knows they must watch their bank accounts nervously to see if the important private data the government has lost has got into the wrong hands. For busy families struggling to get to work on the government’s congested and useless transport system, trying to pay the higher mortgage and Council tax bills this government’s policies are visiting upon them, and trying to comply with the myriad forms, regulations and requirements of an ever more intrusive state, this is just the last straw.

Many of us already had personal experience of the government’s incompetence. Farmers have felt it as payments have failed to materialise when promised, and as the government’s mishandling of disease and floods left a grief stricken countryside and many dead animals. Estranged parents have felt it, as the CSA has struggled to get a grip on their caseload. Many recipients of Tax credits have been on the wrong end of it, as case after case emerges where people are asked to repay large sums they had been awarded months earlier. Northern Rock depositors have felt it, as the Treasury and the Bank failed to keep confidence in markets this autumn. We have all witnessed it at the Home Office, with farce after scandal over borders and prisons.

Too many people have believed that Gordon Brown was a talented Chancellor who ran the Treasury well. Now his successor has taken over we can see what a tacky inheritance he received. Gordon dined out on the soundbite that he had made the Bank of England independent and this was good for the UK economy. The first banking crisis to hit showed that far from making the Bank independent he had crippled it, so it was unable to handle the crisis itself and needed the involvement of the FSA and the Treasury. Under Darling this ring of three failed to head off the run on a bank, and failed to keep the markets liquid. They lost control of short term interest rates, and precipitated a credit crunch. The Conservative Economic Policy Review chronicled how Brown had damaged the Bank of England and how it left us vulnerable to a crisis, in a section written months before Northern Rock and published well before the bank ran into public difficulty.

Over the 10 years of Gordon’s stewardship the UK had to pay higher interest rates than our main competitor economies, and ended the period with higher inflation than our main competitors. He did not even make the Monetary Policy Committee truly independent, retaining the ability to appoint all the members either directly or indirectly, and refusing to answer questions about why some were reappointed and others were not. He overrode their policy by changing targets at a crucial time.

Of more immediate impact for many British people was Gordon Brown’s raid on pension funds, taking around ??5,000 million a year from them every year in additional taxes. He allowed a new supervisory and regulatory framework to create a system which few companies wanted to live under, so we have seen a flight from offering final salary pension schemes. Gordon’s lethal mixture of higher taxes and more regulation is denying a new generation of employees access to a final salary scheme, something their parents took for granted in most jobs.

The only thing the government has been good at is taking our money off us. Because this matters most to these Ministers, it is done with military precision. If anyone is five minutes late back to a parking place they are likely to face a ticket. If you dare to live without a TV at home you will be bombarded with aggressive notices claiming you are dodging the TV poll tax. The beefed up Customs and Revenue has been much more aggressive than its predecessor Inland Revenue in dealing with law abiding companies and individuals. I have more cases now of people being required to pay tax they do not owe thanks to errors and dubious decisions. Local Councils have followed suit, harassing people to pay Council Tax and to fill in regular records to maintain their single person discounts.

The casual incompetence and carelessness of this government is on display every day of my working life as an MP. Much of my office’s time is spent referring cases where the Inland Revenue or the CSA or the Immigration Service have made a wrong decision or have failed to make any decision at all. More time is spent chasing departments for answers, and chasing them again for a proper answer once the standard reply has come in. Papers and documents produced to Parliament are often error ridden. Bills are rewritten in great chunks just before Report stage. Ministers sometimes do not know the detail of the Statutory Instrument they are putting through so debate is fairly pointless with them. The Bank of England’s official copy of its last annual Report presented to Parliament and kept in the library of the House had several important pages missing which no-one at the Bank had bothered to check. Ministers do not appear to proof read anything themselves or to go over the detail beforehand.

In this environment the actions of the Customs and Revenue this week are neither surprising nor out of the ordinary. I was not shocked by it, as I would expect nothing less from a government that has so neglected the arts of departmental management and administrative discipline. I am very sorry for all those families whose data has gone astray, but pleased that this incompetence was so noticeable that maybe now more people will come to understand that this is the nature of this government. If organisations behave casually it is because the signals sent from the top are casual. Too many Ministers in this government fail to stress the need for accuracy and care at all stages of their department’s work. They live on the media and die politically on the media. They have still not learnt that as a Minister staying out of the papers is usually more difficult and more successful than getting into them. Papers mainly want to report mess up and conspiracy.


  1. gordon-bennett
    November 21, 2007

    I watched the debate yesterday. I thoght Edward Leigh’s contribution gave an interesting nugget of information which has been widely overlooked. See the extract below from Hansard (my emphasis added):

    Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I am grateful to the Comptroller and Auditor General and to the Chancellor for briefing me this morning. May I just make one or two things clear from the CAG’s briefing? He requested this information

  2. Tony Makara
    November 21, 2007

    The last time I went out and bought every single newspaper of the day was when Liverpool won the champions league. However I couldn't resist buying all the papers again today and the judgment in Labour is damning and scathing. This government really has lost it. Labour's predilection for failure is known by all Conservative supporters, but now the wider public is finally able to see the cloak of competence ripped from Labour. Yesterdays debacle was bad news that was too big to bury.

  3. Geordie-Tory
    November 21, 2007

    Well it's obvious what needs to be done here isn't it?:

    Clearly Gordo'-the-Great needs to announce a massive expenditure on training and enforcement of data security standards in the public sector.

    Coupled with hiring a small army of Data Security Stewards

  4. Patrick, London
    November 21, 2007

    I saw a comment on Guido Fawkes' blog today which went:

    'Watching Gordon and his gang running the country is a lot like watching Frank Spencer put up a wardrobe'.


  5. Curly
    November 21, 2007

    Incompetent Labour government, and incompetent Labour councils!

  6. Oscar Miller
    November 21, 2007

    Of course one other thing NuLab have excelled at is trashing the Opposition. A number of commentators today were saying it was reminiscent of the 1990s and the decline of the Major government. But Black Wednesday at least led to economic revival – the thriving economy Brown plundered and took credit for. And many of the so called 'scandals' under Major were hugely inflated if not invented. I remain very sceptical, for instance, about the Hamiltons and cash for questions. I was horrified to read that the Tatton by-election was a wheeze dreamt up by Alistair Campbell (as revealed in his diaries). I always thought Bell decided to stand spontaneously. Shows how naive I can be. The Conservatives were not failing nearly as much as the media made out. Underlying conditions were good, even tho' party divisions are undeniable. But compared with the very real failure, mismanagement and dishonesty of this government, there is actually no comparison at all. When the Conservatives do finally get back in, there'll be an awful lot of damage to undo.

  7. Steven_L
    November 21, 2007

    Well the way I see it is that thehy wouldn't be so callous if it was the crown jewels or gold bullion in transit. Yet they send an unencryted CR ROM containg nearly half the nations' personal data by 'internal post'.

    This culture of comptempt towards the taxpaying public comes from the top.

  8. Derek
    November 22, 2007

    Apparently this data was lost when sent through the government's internal mail system, operated by TNT. I was under the impression that the government operates a mail network with thousands of red vans and sorting offices in every town. With this costly infrastructure already in place, why on earth is the government squandering taxpayer's money on, what seems to be an unreliable, third party private mail businesses?

  9. David Hearnshaw
    November 22, 2007

    Oscar Miller has left out one important difference in comparing the Major goverment and the current shower – The BBC, which always leaps on and plays up any potential problems for the Conservatives whilst doing its best to play down Labour's dishonesty, incompetence and corruption. They also talked up McBroon as a great Chancellor whereas, in actual fact, he was one of the worst in living memory and cashed on the strengthening economy left by the Conservatives.
    I do so hope that the Conservatives will do something about the BBC when they return to power!

  10. apl
    November 24, 2007


  11. apl
    November 24, 2007


  12. mikestallard
    November 24, 2007

    Of course this is New Labour's ERM moment!
    Do you personally know of anyone who is willing to stand up and say that they still believe in the Project? Here, at grassroots level, I must say I don't.
    Things can only get – worse.
    I give this government until Easter before it collapses.

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