Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Spending like there's no tomorrow

This morning’s Independent contains an almost incredible splash that £26bn has been wasted on IT projects over the last decade. It's a litany of binary bungles - the incompetence: staggering; the forecasting: inept; and the planning (or lack of it): simply shocking. Contending with such absurdity whilst staring down the barrel of a £175bn deficit, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Let me take you on a whistle stop tour of dud investments made on our behalf. The major culprits are the NHS’ national IT programme (over budget and late at £12.7bn and used by only 160 health organisations out of 9,000), the MoD’s defence information infrastructure (over budget and late at £7.15bn and which was commissioned without a pilot) and the ID cards scheme (£2bn over budget and virtually scrapped at any rate). The government enjoys an impeccable reputation for throwing good money after bad bureaucracy; all three examples are evidence of the blinkered approach Labour still takes and the system that facilitates that approach.

In many ways, the modest examples of waste are more indicative of what is wrong with our bureaucracy and why it needs reform. In 2006 the DWP introduced the benefit processing replacement scheme, the aim of which was unclear; three months later it emerged that the scheme had been dropped, having already cost £106m. Money was spent for the sake of it on a gimmick that was quietly dropped after initial applause had subsided. Indicative of the Civil Service’s inability to cost anything, GCHQ decided to move its computer systems at an estimated cost of £41m; the final reckoning exceeded £300m. But the cream of the jest is the Department of Transport’s shared services centre. Bright and breezy analysts opined that rationalisation would save £51m; eventually the scheme cost £81m, but it was not without its benefits. After a little application, the unfulfilled vehicle licensers of Swansea came to enjoy Goethe in the original: the programme communicated in German.

Friday, 15 January 2010

The hazards of over eating

A floor collapsed beneath a group of about 20 members of Weight Watchers as they gathered to compare how many pounds they had shed over Christmas.

Members of the weight-loss club were lining up to compare readings on the scales when they heard a bang as the floor came away from the walls of their meeting room in Växjö in southern Sweden.

“We suddenly heard a huge thud – we almost thought it was an earthquake and everything flew up in the air. The floor collapsed in one corner of the room and along the walls,” one of the those present told the Smålandsposten newspaper.

They abandoned the room as the floor started to give way in other areas.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Sign of the times

I was driving to work in Bedford this morning when I found myself behind a Group 4 security vehicle taking prisoners to Bedford prison. Someone had written in the dirt on the back of the vehicle "Caution, may contain nuts".

Watch out, the taxman's about

HMRC, desperate to make up for lost tax revenue from the recession are launch9ing a new blitz, initially to target doctors and dentists.

Doctors and dentists were identified yesterday as the first groups that HM Revenue and Customs inspectors would target.

Other white-collar workers including solicitors, barristers and accountants were expected to be targeted in coming months in what inspectors have named the “professionals campaign”.

Previously the revenue has focused on people in blue collar occupations, such as publicans and taxi drivers, when fighting tax evasion.

It was disclosed yesterday that attention would switch to the accounts of professionals earning more than £100,000.

Tens of thousands of individuals were expected to be audited.

Experts accused the Government of unfairly seeking “easy pickings”.

They suggested that the decision to chase high-earning professionals for unpaid taxes had been forced on the revenue by the Treasury, in an attempt to raise funds to reduce the national debt.

The revenue said a “significant” minority of medical professionals were engaged in tax evasion.

Examples cited included not declaring fees for private work done for medical care providers, payments for private consultation work or cash sums for drafting medical reports. Under a three-month amnesty, hospital consultants, GPs and dentists have until March 31 to make a voluntary disclosure about any income they have not declared.

In exchange, they will have to pay the outstanding tax. They will also face a fine of 10 per cent of the amount owed — but the action will stop there.

However, anyone who refuses to disclose their unpaid tax, and is caught after the deadline, faces criminal prosecution and up to seven years’ jail. They could also find themselves “named and shamed” on the revenue’s website.

Tax inspectors can issue formal notices asking people to hand over bank statements and business records if they believe they have grounds for suspicions. They can also legally inspect business premises using their civil powers. Tax evaders could also be identified through their previous tax returns.

Mike Wells, the revenue’s director of risk and intelligence, said: “I strongly urge any in this group [the medical profession] who think they may have outstanding tax liabilities on their income to get in touch with HMRC and get their tax affairs in order simply and on the best available terms.

“The message is clear: contact us before we contact you.”

Phil Berwick, the director of tax investigations at the law firm McGrigors, said targeting the medical profession alone was “without precedent”. “It is people who are going to be averse to naming and shaming and probably in a position to make a payment to the revenue,” he said.

“By offering an amnesty, HMRC is hoping to get a significant amount of tax into the Treasury’s coffers very quickly and at a reduced cost to itself. The parlous state of the public finances and the pressing need to reduce the deficit has probably forced HMRC’s hand to an extent.”

The middle-class initiative follows a previous revenue amnesty scheme to allow people with offshore bank accounts to declare how much tax they owed and pay a small fine. About 10,000 people made use of the scheme.

Richard Limburg, from Vantis Medical Group, the accountancy firm, added: “It is likely that HMRC sees the medical profession, especially consultants, as easy pickings and this could raise substantial amounts.”

A British Medical Association spokesman said doctors with concerns should consult a financial adviser. A spokesman for the British Dental Association said: “This plan serves as a useful reminder of the importance of ensuring everything is up to date.”

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Poetry corner

Proof that Gordon Brown cannot do anything right. Brown, fresh from surviving the Hoon-Hewitt assassination attempt, tells us that the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley is his inspiration.

"Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul".

Who else was inspired by that poem? Not just Nelson Mandela, it transpires.

Psychopath Timothy McVeigh, who chose it as his final statement before he was executed in 2001 after killing 168 people in Oklahoma.

You'd have thought Downing Street might have thought this one through a little bit better, rather than choosing the convicted terrorist's poem of choice.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Go for it

Prof Tim Briggs, medical director of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH) in north London, will challenge the former minister Tony McNulty as an independent candidate for Harrow East with the aim of securing the future of the institution.

The RNOH, which treats 60,000 patients a year, is in a state of disrepair and costs millions of pounds to maintain every year.

Prof Briggs has campaigned for nearly 15 years to secure money to rebuild the hospital on its current site in Stanmore.

But his lobbying has failed to secure the £60m needed from the strategic health authority, NHS London.

Mr McNulty holds the seat with a 4,700 majority.

Professor Briggs said he was giving the Government “one last chance”. If the Health Secretary Andy Burnham did not give him a firm commitment at a meeting this week, he would stand against Mr McNulty, he told the Independent on Sunday.

NHS London said: “It is clear that the RNOH NHS Trust provides a high-quality service but from an inadequate site. NHS London and Department of Health colleagues are currently reviewing the business case and the trust is responding to a number of points that we have raised for clarification."

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

An invitation

Would you like to write a piece for this website (anonymously if you wish). Please e-mail me on barrymonk@doctors.org.uk with your ideas.

Friday, 1 January 2010

A moneyspinner for 2010

Secretary of State,
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA),
Nobel House
17 Smith Square
London SW1P 3JR

16 May 2007

Dear Secretary of State,

My friend, who is in farming at the moment, recently received a cheque for £3,000 from the Rural Payments Agency for not rearing pigs. I would now like to join the “not rearing pigs” business.

In your opinion, what is the best kind of farm not to rear pigs on, and which is the best breed of pigs not to rear? I want to be sure I approach this endeavour in keeping with all government policies, as dictated by the EU under the Common Agricultural Policy.

I would prefer not to rear bacon pigs, but if this is not the type you want not rearing, I will just as gladly not rear porkers. Are there any advantages in not rearing rare breeds such as Saddlebacks or Gloucester Old Spots, or are there too many people already not rearing these?

As I see it, the hardest part of this programme will be keeping an accurate record of how many pigs I haven’t reared. Are there any Government or Local Authority courses on this?

My friend is very satisfied with this business. He has been rearing pigs for forty years or so, and the best he ever made on them was £1,422 in 1968. That is – until this year, when he received a cheque for not rearing any.

If I get £3,000 for not rearing 50 pigs, will I get £6,000 for not rearing 100?

I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to about 4,000 pigs not raised, which will mean about £240,000 for the first year. As I become more expert in not rearing pigs, I plan to be more ambitious, perhaps increasing to, say, 40,000 pigs not reared in my second year, for which I should expect about £2.4 million from your department. Incidentally, I wonder if I would be eligible to receive tradable carbon credits for all these pigs not producing harmful and polluting methane gases?

Another point: These pigs that I plan not to rear will not eat 2,000 tonnes of cereals. I understand that you also pay farmers for not growing crops. Will I qualify for payments for not growing cereals to not feed the pigs I don’t rear?

I am also considering the “not milking cows” business, so please send any information you have on that too. Please could you also include the current Defra advice on set aside fields? Can this be done on an e-commerce basis with virtual fields (of which I seem to have several thousand hectares)?

In view of the above you will realise that I will be totally unemployed, and will therefore qualify for unemployment benefits.

I shall of course be voting for your party at the next general election.

Yours faithfully,

This originally appeared in the Guido Fawkes blog