Apparently, those astute fellows at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have managed to lose £2bn of tax revenue down the back of a computer server somewhere. And since this is the UK, where HMRC have only slightly less powers than the average deity, we the taxpayers are going to be expected to roll over and cough up the dough to pay for their ineptitude.
The increasingly inane BBC Breakfast wheeled in a “tax expert” this morning to explain what those of us unfortunate to receive a demand for £1,400 should do. Aside from returning the envelope smeared in excrement, which would be my suggestion, we are encouraged to plan to lose £100 per month of our income for a year. But don’t worry, said the “expert”, it won’t happen until next April. Whoop-de-effing-do.
But what the dopey presenters didn’t consider, and indeed what has escaped the attention of most of the media, is how did the government allow this much tax to fail to be collected?
Assuming it’s the fault of a computer system – and that seems to be what is being reported – then humans are involved somewhere. Computer software, especially mildly complex programs such as tax calculators for 30 million citizens, does not just write itself, deus ex machina-style.
A minister will have had an idea; a permanent secretary will have engaged with some internal stakeholders to kick off a project; consultants will have been appointed, following a rigorous process whereby the company whose CEO contributes most to the ruling party is employed; internal staff will be re-deployed from mind-numbingly tedious jobs to a position where they can obfuscate and stall the project as much as possible. And eventually an unfit-for-purpose system will be spat out, poorly-tested, over budget and several years late.
Since the system in question is only just now miscalculating our tax, it is safe to assume that it was not commissioned by the present coalition government: it is simply not possible to implement a new IT project in government in four months. So, it must have been a New Labour idea.
But not Alistair Darling’s: he became Chancellor in 2007 and the new software is only now being found out for getting the 2009-2010 tax year wrong. Which means it was probably instigated under the watch of the previous incumbent of No. 11. And since Gordon Brown was tighter than two coats of paint as Chancellor, evidenced by his penny-pinching with the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, you can bet that the new tax computer was subject to a budget comparable to the cost of the average Daewoo. A second hand one. With high mileage, no service history and three not very careful owners.
Darling is still culpable though, since the new system would have been undergoing testing once he was thrust into the Chancellorship. Although it was probably too late at that point to polish the pooh that Brown had laid during his time at the Treasury.
The £2bn should be re-couped from the salary and pensions of all the ministers that were involved in unleashing the shambles in the first place. Now that Brown and Darling are on the opposition benches – that is so satisfying to type – they should be forced to forfeit a fraction of their stipend to make up the shortfall. A thousand quid from each of them each month should do. Which is a million months. Or 83 millenia. Plus interest. No wonder the country’s finances are screwed deeper than a Chilean miner.
Brown and Darling – still a danger to the nation’s financial health.