The government's track record for successful IT systems may leave users weary of future projects, says Simon Moores
It may have been simple coincidence, but my letter from the Inland Revenue arrived within two days of a column where I wrote I wouldn’t trust them enough to file anything electronically - given the number of attempts that my accountant and I had made to send P11Ds to Edinburgh this year.
The letter was one of the standard communications I have come to expect from this department of government these days. It simply stated that I had failed to supply them with my P11D returns for the tax year and that I was now to be fined £400 and deported.
Panic and a series of phone calls were predictable. Between us, my accountant and I estimated that we had posted or faxed at least six copies of the document to the inspector and when I tried calling the Revenue, I was simply told they didn’t have them, so tough luck.
My accountant had a somewhat better result. Yes, they has found the P11Ds in question but they had so many copies they didn’t know which to input, so they didn’t or there was a “computer error” with the result that a fine had been issued, which I should now ignore.
What are the odds I wonder that in a couple of month’s time I will receive an even larger fine for not paying the first one? And of course, it’s all my fault not theirs.
In the light of the Commons Public Accounts Committee discussing giving the Revenue the power to recover tax debts directly from a person's salary or bank account, I’m deeply concerned that we have in place an overloaded, inefficient system which simply doesn’t work.
The Treasury with tax debts of £12bn, which it has no real chance of recovering and in many cases, with me as an example, are quite wrong and are executed with a breathtaking disregard for any sense of natural justice.
It’s all very well spending billions of taxpayers pounds on a computer system which can only lose data and send out fines, but the Revenue now appear to be acting in the best example of Westminster Council traffic wardens in a kind of shoot first, ask questions later approach to tax collection.
When, I wonder, will we see any central government system that works in the best interest of the taxpayer? The acid remarks of the Public Accounts Committee are proof of this. What about Family Tax Credits, No. the National Assessment Agency, No.
I’m racking my brains to find a single example of something really big in central government IT that works properly and efficiently, anything and I’m stuck, I can’t think of one.
Of course, next up to bat are identity cards and I listened to the most specious drivel from ministers on this subject following the Queen’s speech. The thin argument that “the public want them”, appears to be enough justification to spend even more billions of our national debt on another advanced project which is most unlikely to deliver the sweeping benefits that government has in mind for identity management.
Still, when you’re fed-up with working for Tony Blair on large scale IT triumphs you can always find a welcome in the private sector.
Former e-envoy Andrew Pinder has been appointed to the Board of Directors of Entrust, and Sir Peter Gershon, former chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce has also become an independent, non-executive chairman of Symbian. Meanwhile, although the television series “Yes Minister” may have finished two decades ago, its spirit lives on at Westminster.
Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies, and specialises in the areas of e-government and information security.
For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services, visit www.zentelligence.com