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Chicken and the Egg

September 7, 2009

I’m currently living in the UK and have now been here for just over 4 years. While in general it is a great place to live, there are some areas that are so mind bogglingly backwards it is stunning to think there was ever a time when the English were able to unwrap themselves from red tape and bureaucracy and go out and conquer anything.

I’m currently living in the UK and have now been here for just over 4 years. While in general it is a great place to live, there are some areas that are so mind bogglingly backwards it is stunning to think there was ever a time when the English were able to unwrap themselves from red tape and bureaucracy and go out and conquer anything.

I’ve never been interested in any way in cars, so am happy to move from cheap car to cheap car as soon as one stops working. I’ve just replaced my car and am now going through the process of trying to pay for the road tax so that I can take my car out and actually drive it on the roads. As soon as ownership of the car was transferred, I went rang up the insurance company and changed the insurance, no problem there at all. Within hours of owning the car I was fully insured and they were happy to let me drive it. Then I walked up to the town to get the road tax, as you are not allowed on the roads if your car is not insured and taxed. All of this information is stored on a database and there are a number of cameras around that scan license plates, check the database and then send you a fine if you are not covered.

At the post office, I was told that I could not get the road tax disc because I did not have the insurance papers yet. Explaining that I had just got off the phone with the company, was fully insured, and asking if they could check the database, or ring up the insurance company. “No we can’t ring the company, you could just give us a friends number and have them tell us you are insured” was the response, to which I didn’t bother mentioning the fact that there was a stack of phonebooks behind the desk that I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to change the numbers on. So I pressed with the database. “We can’t check that, we have to have a letter from your insurance company”. That is a ridiculously stupid system. I now have a car that I’m not allowed to drive until all the papers from the insurance company come in, and until I get the chance to get back up to the town to buy the tax disc.

I’ve never understood the point in systems where it makes it difficult for the users of the system to benefit. I can understand a new system coming in to place with a few teething problems, but the expectation would be that over time users would report problems and procedures would be ammended to make the system easier to use. Major points like the fact you can buy a car, get it insured, but not be able to drive it because you can’t get the road tax on the car should be flagged fairly quickly and fixed.

This is similar to the problem I had when I first came to the UK and was trying to find a home to rent to live in it. I was not allowed to open a bank account until I had an address, and I wasn’t able to rent a house until I had a bank account. It is very obvious that those making the systems and procedures never actually go through them at any point in time, and don’t have any kind of proper formal review procedure to see if there are bottlenecks or situations where a user of the system would have to break the law in order to actually start using the system. I’m not going to say how I eventually managed to rent a home.

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