Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The tax credit scandal

People should be worried about the probable revelation of their tax credit records, and the associated personal details. The government assurances are worth nothing. The fact that no fraudulent activity has been detected so far means nothing.

The rogues who would know what to do with the data would also know to take their time in making use of them. They have already had weeks to decide what to do with them. At worst, they may already have been sold abroad and are sitting on one or more databases in the South-East Asia.

So, take the advice given by reputable authorities - for instance, see the BBC and the banks' UK Payments Association.

The Blame Game

Not only the current New Labour administration, but also the Conservatives, bear some responsibility for the systemic failures.

The Conservatives, because under Mrs Thatcher and Michael Heseltine, bodies which had begun to build up professionalism in management and IT in government service - The Civil Service College, the Central Computer Agency and the National Computing Centre - were swept away, reduced or privatised.

The Tories also privatised functions within the public service. Thus the internal mail system, which used to be directly accountable to a civil servant, is contracted out - currently to TNT, it appears.

Labour, because they made desperate across-the-board cuts in civil service establishment at the same time as merging the Revenue with HM Customs. (The Conservatives would also have made swingeing cuts in the service, as their 2005 manifesto made clear. I am even a little concerned about the vagueness of both our leadership contenders' references to "efficiency savings".)

Commerce is more trustworthy?

Something I've heard in a couple of vox pops today is that, if such a débâcle occurred in private industry, the chairman, managing director and probably the board would have been compelled to resign.

I doubt it. Top jobs are under threat only if "shareholder value" is affected. Nobody resigned over the data leaks at TKMaxx, BT or several banks and building societies.

But there are no excuses for Gordon Brown's failure to heed the warnings.

- Frank Little
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