Probably every one of us can tell a tale that shows how far we have fallen as a nation. Most of us can probably tell such a tale where we encounter the businesses that contribute to the economy or where we encounter bits of the states apparatus.
I was reminded of one this morning when I learned that the National Audit Office has issued a report on dealing with the Inland Revenue in which it has been scathing about the service and the cost that those service failings cost the public.
My story was having been made redundant some years ago, I was due a tax rebate at the end of my redundancy. Bear in mind I had been without this money for almost a year. I sent off my paperwork (originals of course as no copies were permitted)
What followed over the next few months was a Keystone Cops routine of phone calls and letters. These calls and letters. These phone calls and letters revealed a system in chaos. First they hadn't got it (post room backlogs). Then they had the letter but it wasn't on the system. Then we had the letters telling me I hadn't sent through various documents. That in reality meant they had lost them because they had all been in the envelope. It was only the states obsession with triplicate or more forms which saved me on that front.
Eventually I rang and spoke to someone who started to take a bit of a tone with me in that sort of "what are you doing contacting us, don't you know you're just supposed to wait until we contact you". She obviously didn't say that, but it was in the tone.
What she told me was that following confirmation that my case was on the system and having been told they had a three week window to call me back. Having been round the houses with these people already I decided to test the waters.
"Okay. If nobody calls me in the three week window and I call again, might I have to wait another 3 weeks before someone is required to contact me"
"Yes" came the answer.
Now you and I can immediately see what's wrong with this. It's a meaningless service level. They can fail to contact me and me reminding them they've failed puts me to the back of the queue again - marvellous.
It was at this point I pointed out that such an arrangement was "unacceptable" to which came the answer that pointed out precisely where some servants of the state think they sit in the grand scheme of things - and I quote
"It's not a question of you think is acceptable Mr....."
It didn't go to well for her after that and eventually I managed to get the situation escalated and my refund calculation resolved by the end of the same day.
Today's news made me smile as the memory came back. I wonder if the Inland Revenue will tell the NAO that "it's not a case of what you think is acceptable."