Saturday, 26 June 2010

HM Revenue and Customs: Let's Not Get Cosy

The other night I was idly channel-hopping. I alighted on the disturbingly attractive figure of Anne Josephine Robinson, presenting her consumer affairs programme Watchdog. Robinson's guest, sleek and self-assured in the face of permafrost questioning, was Leslie Strathie, Chief Executive of HM Revenue and Customs.

With delightful acerbity Robinson harangued Ms Strathie over a long list of complaints about her department received from taxpayers. But the public servant was able to comfortably counter with platitudes, generalities, statistics irrefutably demonstrating faultless performance.

What really offended me about Strathie was not merely her poise when confronted with real worries from dozens who'd written in. I realised how much I disliked her when she referred to those distressed people as 'customers', and talked about HMRC's 'customer services'.

When I learned English, customers bought stuff. If I'm now to be a 'customer' of HMRC, and not just some poor sod made to fill in loathsome forms and pay ever more tax, exactly what am I buying? Freedom from prosecution for tax evasion perhaps. Please, don't try to get cosy with me.

Incidentally, it turns out HMRC is bottom of the league of civil service departments, as judged by its own staff. The survey which revealed such catastrophic morale was described by Strathie herself as 'disappointing'. More gratifying must have been the
Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath, inexplicably conferred on her in the Queen's recent birthday honours list.

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