January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!  Before we leave 2015 behind us altogether, can we just cast our minds back for a moment to the Autumn Statement and Spending Review and how much fun we all had playing Buzzword Bingo?  There are some words and phrases (hard working families; back office, efficiency savings) that make me want to reach for Goering’s gun, mainly because they are weasel words and phrases.  “Hard working families” means “you: nice people who have jobs and vote for us, and not them: nasty people you’ve never met and who claim benefits”.  “Back office” means “people who we think we can get rid of without making any difference, because everyone else will have just work harder for no extra pay to do their own typing and make their own travel bookings”.  And of course “efficiency savings” mean “cuts”. Well, I think I’ve found another weasel.  Look here: the Civil Service blog about what the spending review means for the service.  Apparently we must “modernise”.  Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?  Throw away the fountain pens and the carbon paper and get with the 21st century.  Who could argue with that? Well no, apparently what needs to be modernised is civil servants’ “terms and conditions, to bring them more into line with those in the private sector”.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a job where you take home less money in one year than you did the previous year.  But if I hadn’t left HMRC when I did, that would have happened.  The combination of flat pay and rising deductions means that many of my former colleagues are literally taking home less than they did last year. It’s hard to have sympathy for someone on a 50K salary, do I hear you say?  Well of course it is, if you’re going to work on the principle that no-one should have cake till everyone has bread.  Me, I think there are enough resources in the world for everyone to have bread AND roses, and if some people have neither that’s because of political decisions.  But, to put it mildly, you are hardly going to encourage your brightest and best to consider public service if that’s how you are going to treat them. There is a lot of talk about the “covenant” between the country and the armed forces.  And, at the risk of going into old git mode (I seriously found myself considering typing the phrase “in my day”) I was always led to believe there was a “covenant”, an agreement, perhaps not a written contract but a gentleman’s agreement, between the civil service and the government, and in particular between the Tax Inspector and the government. We want you – in effect, it said – to be the watchdog on people with substantial fortunes.  We won’t pay you silly money, but we’ll pay you a middle class salary and give you decent terms and conditions, and we’ll see you right with a decent pension at the end of your service.  You might make more money on the Other Side, but you’ll make Enough in public service and you’ll know you’re on the side of righteousness. What changed during my career?  The naked contempt of the privileged for the poor sap who thinks public service is more important than (or even as important as) making money. So now we can look forward to a future where there is no longer a local branch network of HMRC offices, but a few mega structures and a computerised system.  Rather in the way that my bank helpfully centralised by closing all but one of its branches in Sheffield, and then sacked all the staff in the one remaining branch and replaced them with a wall of machines. Why should we care?  I was trying to think of something hopeful to say – a traditional New Year’s Day message of, well, things will be different but it’ll be all right in the end.  After all Lin Homer shall have her Damehood “for public service particularly to Public Finance.” (page 5) and we shall all have a Personal Tax Account. But honestly, I can’t really think of anything hopeful to say, sorry.  After all, it’s a commonplace now in HMRC management that “there are 22 professions in HMRC, not just tax.”  So presumably once the last tax professional has given up the ghost and joined the other side HMRC as an entity can just … do something else?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: