When I first started paying UK municipal taxes exactly forty years ago, the explanatory document which accompanied the bill was a single page. Since then, these taxes have risen every year at a rate well above inflation and the document that comes with the bill is now a twenty-eight A5 page glossy brochure. In contrast, I get not a single word from my council in Spain. But, then, the tax there is about one tenth of what’s levied in the UK.
Looking at my mother’s copy of said brochure, I see the inside front cover has a message printed in ten languages. In alphabetic order, these are – Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Gaelic, Hindi, Polish, Punjabi, Somali and Urdu. This, of course, is only nine. This is because the tenth is English. And it starts:- “If you need to contact Wirral Council but don’t speak English, you can phone 606 2020 to tell us which language you speak . . .” And next to each version of the message, the language is identified in English. For those who can’t read their own language but are fluent in English, I guess.
I can’t help wondering whether this isn’t customer orientation taken too far. And whether it’s a good indication of why public sector expenditure in the UK has risen from 36 to 52% of GNP in the last 13 years. And why Britain’s public sector deficit is greater than that of Greece.
Which reminds me . . . Perhaps a better example of the lack of customer orientation in Spain than yesterday’s would be the failure of my insurance company to answer two letters about the write-off value of my car. This neglect would be unimaginable in the UK. Which is a little ironic as the company is the subsidiary of Direct Line. Which is British. Or at least it was. I see the company was recently sold by the Royal Bank of Scotland to BankInter. Which I thought was Dutch but have just discovered is . . . Spanish. So all is now clear. Especially why the number you call is no longer a cheap one but the premium rate option used by all Spanish companies to fleece both potential and existing clients. And why ‘Juan Carlos’ who answers the phone has an Indian accent. As BankInter is a subsidiary of Banco Santander, it’ll be interesting to see whether the latter will introduce this in the UK with the banks it recently bought there. Perhaps it already has.
But backing out of the detail and redressing the balance a little . . . As with every visit to the UK, this one has quickly endorsed my view that, while life in Spain is not quite as sane as it was ten years ago, life in Britain just gets madder and madder. Trying to get some simple anti-seasickness pills in Boots yesterday, I had to first undergo a grilling from the woman behind the counter as to which pills I’d used in the past and how I’d reacted to them. Presumably the company is afraid some enterprising lawyer will take out a major law suit against them if they let a customer take his or her own decisions. And I guess that next year I’ll have to sign a ten-page Claim Waiver form just to get some aspirins. But there was more . . . When I took the plastic wrapping off a product I’d just paid for and asked the checkout girl whether I could chuck it in her bin, she adopted a look of incipient panic and said she’d have to fill in a form about it. And don’t get me started on the surveillance cameras and the signs at the side of the road giving accident statistics for the last five years. Truly is Britain now a prime example of what happens when you allow all decisions to be taken by accountants and lawyers. Which may actually be worse that the EU example of leaving things to self-serving bureaucrats. Who are probably all accountants and lawyers anyway. End of rant.
Finally . . . Yesterday’s hits to this blog included searches for dangerous nicknames and funny names for geese. I do hope these came from the same person. Who owns a vicious goose.