A Real Waste of Money

Governments waste money, the saying goes. However, in many cases civil servants also waste money.

Some years ago the UK government decided to computerise the European Union system of calculating and paying subsidies to farmer. It was a logical candidate for computerisation; the old system took a farmer a few hours to complete a form, which then took officials in the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs a few more hours to check and process the form and then authorise the payments.

Computerisation in these cases usually means a bit more work for one side (the farmers) and a lot less work for the other side. A successful computerised system would mean farmers doing a lot of free work for the government, but the taxpayer saving a lot of money in the processing of the subsidies. This kind of thing has happened in so many industries; airlines, for example, get you to do all their ticket administration when you book a flight on line; it takes you more time than buying a ticket from your local friendly neighbourhood travel agent, and saves the airline money.

A new software programme had to be invented for DEFRA’s Rural Payments Scheme, and for some reason the cost came out at £154 million, which is a suspiciously large figure.

When the system was introduced farmers found instead of taking the three hours it took before the system was computerised, them in most cases it took them three of four days to fill out the form on the website, and even then the information still had to be processed at the cost of many official man and women hours.

Now the government has abandoned the website because it did not work properly, retaining the simplest part of it, which was the registration part. £154 million for a website which just registers details of farmers sounds like a ridiculously large amount of money.

I do not think we can blame the politicians for this waste; it was not the same kind of waste as government expenditure on the Olympic Park or the Millennium Dome, which were extravagant grandiose schemes to puff up the politicians involved(Tony Blair, Michael Heseltine and Peter Mandelson). The DEFRA Rural Payments Subsidies scheme was a logical candidate for computerisation, but clearly the officials involved failed to get any value for money and have wasted quite a large amount of our taxes.

I have yet to see any report explaining what steps the government will take to get some of this wasted money back from the companies who designed the computer programme.