No, this isn’t the EU. Just home grown

But it is a good reason why anything more complicated than a box or two to tick just isn’t going to work as a method of governance:

One farmer’s field was struck out because on the day the picture was taken it had been flooded by a burst water main. It was therefore declared as an “ineligible TW03 (Inland Waterway). Frequently those inputting the data couldn’t even read the forms properly, so that one farmer who had put “AC58”, the code for “birdseed mixture”. found this had been inputted as “AC66” for “wheat”, while his “AC59” entry for “mixed crops” had been translated into “AC52” for “Siamese pumpkins”.

What makes this all the more outrageous, however, is not just that thousands of farmers will not be paid their legal due, at a time when, thanks to rock-bottom farm prices, subsidy payments can make all the difference between survival or going under. The RPA now tells them they can also expect to be fined for making fraudulent declarations, which are entirely down to the incompetence of its own officials. Furthermore, it seems this shambles is so immense that the UK may face further huge fines from Brussels, dwarfing even those imposed under the old system – the scandalous mistakes of which this new system was supposed to cure.

Complicated governance, complicated management, schemes just don’t work. Because complex just doesn’t work.

This is true whether we speak of Major Douglas’ social credit or this nonsense with farm payments. Or detailed pl;ans for industrial renaissance, or tax systems trying to balance fairness, revenue raising, increasing equality and so on and on: or even benefits systems with many multiplies of different benefits for different circumstances.

Just keep it simple, stupid.

36 thoughts on “No, this isn’t the EU. Just home grown”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    The bigger government gets, the lower the quality of civil servants. The Indian colonial administration could take the cream of Britain’s best schools. There were only 15,000 of them. The modern British state employs what? A fifth of the workforce?

    They are well beyond employing people with a Lower Second in sociology from a useless “university” like Essex. They are taking people with degrees in Sports Psychology or Social Work from Loughborough. Or even worse.

  2. Mr Ecks has it :
    It would give me great joy to see a Leave vote, followed by devolving farm subsidy policy, followed by England just abolishing them, but the other parts of the Union continuing with their own scheme. Then we’d get some nice comparators as to whether subsidies to landowners make for better outcomes.

  3. They are well beyond employing people with a Lower Second in sociology from a useless “university” like Essex…

    Is this why everyone has to get a degree now?

  4. Is this why everyone has to get a degree now?

    No… It’s just to keep the useless little fuckers out of the unemployment figures for an extra three years. Ditto the progressive raises in the school-leaving age.

  5. “The RPA now tells them they can also expect to be fined for making fraudulent declarations, which are entirely down to the incompetence of its own officials”

    This. If a private company fucks up, and they sometimes do, at least they can’t also maliciously prosecute you to cover up their own incompetence. But the State can and does.

  6. Apropos Social Credit being so fiendishly complicated (therefore thoroughly unBritish): we already distribute billions of pounds in unearned income to homeowners for sitting on their arses and watching their house prices go up, a National Dividend directed only at the non-productive.

  7. I’m attempting to deal with this system right now, and everything written in that article is spot on. He’s basically lifted the entire article from the farming forum I post on, where all those examples are detailed.

    The odd thing is I don’t blame the RPA or DEFRA, I blame Cameron. It was his ‘Digital Czar’ bloke that was parachuted into the RPA that demanded the all singing all dancing new digital only system (no paper forms allowed), when the RPA knew (from bitter experience the last time they had to implement a CAP system change in 2005) that the last thing you want to do is try to change too many things at once.

    So what did they do? Attempt to change a) the rules of the system (which they had to), b) create a completely new IT system that was far more complex than the old one (which they didn’t need to do, the old system worked fine) c) move to digital only, with no paper applications allowed, and d) demand that farmers send them details of every tiny square meter of land that could possibly be described as ‘non-agricultural’ so that it could be inputted into their mapping system.

    This latter resulted in a deluge of forms arriving at the RPA, as every farmer had previously just been knocking off the non-agricultural bits off their subsidy forms anyway. So they created themselves a huge amount of complex work, that saved not a penny in money paid out, and that has completely clogged up the system.

    The new digital only system collapsed this time last year, and everyone had to put in paper forms. This resulted in massive errors in data input (a single digit, crop code or decimal point error can have massive consequences down the line), which in turn has meant that farmers have been penalised (by the computer automatically) for errors that have been created by the RPA.

    I for example have lost £1500 due to a single field being incorrectly recorded as ‘non-agricultural’. I was thus deemed to have made a false application, claiming more subsidy than I had agricultural land and was fined for this ‘error’. This is a common problem – virtually every farmer has some sort of RPA created error on their application, and there are tens of thousands of applications.

    The whole thing is a fuck up from start to finish.

  8. “This required farmers to make their returns online. But the information they now had to supply was so much more complex than before that the agency’s IT system couldn’t cope. Farmers were therefore posted paper forms, to be “inputted” by RPA officials.”

    FFS You just make a better computer system. Paper? Post? Human transcription? Why not go the whole way and slaughter some sheep and pigeons to send out vellum and quills?

  9. The Meissen Bison

    DBC Reed: …we already distribute billions of pounds in unearned income to homeowners for sitting on their arses and watching their house prices go up…

    For a bit of light entertainment, could you please describe the precise working of this process.

  10. DBC Reed. Where do I go to apply for this income? I wouldn’t mind sitting on my arse and not bothering with work while the weather is nice.

  11. I work in IT and I simply do not understand Government and public sector IT. In my experience, most private sector IT systems work. Yes, during the implementation costs rise a bit, the time budget increases and there are problems, but most projects do go live and bring value to the private organisation. And yes, there are some failures.

    But why is it that Government and public sector IT is just a fucking disaster zone?

  12. The Meissen Bison

    To be fair to DBC he might be right this time. The process in question are our planning laws, which have rewarded existing homeowners by restricting supply of new homes thereby pushing up the price of housing.

  13. “Just keep it simple, stupid”

    Always Tim? Because its relative simplicity is about the best argument we have for a Corporation Tax.

  14. The Meissen Bison

    Ironman

    Being scrupulously fair to DBC Reed is one of the mainstays of my personal morality but the idea of billions being “distributed” to homeowners tickles my sense of fun.

    And the planning permission hobby horse can jolly well stay in its stable, please, as it has already cantered through countless threads and we have studied its form and know it well.

  15. Oh but I think it has its place in his thread too. It is a fiendishly complicated and capricious system that achieves very little except unjust enrichment of some citizens but not others.

  16. I’ve worked with people where process documentation has to be filled in as the job progresses and it’s impossible to work out what they’ve written. I keep telling them that regardless of their normal handwriting, they should adopt a “form filiing hand” for filling in documents that other people have to read.

  17. “FFS You just make a better computer system. Paper? Post? Human transcription? Why not go the whole way and slaughter some sheep and pigeons to send out vellum and quills?”

    All very well to say ‘make a better computer system’, but the existing one had failed, and there was a deadline to get applications in by. What else could be done except send out paper forms? You can’t build and implement from design to going live to users an entirely new IT system of that complexity in 6 weeks flat, which is the time scale they were looking at last year.

    Yes they shouldn’t have been in that position, but once in it the only way out was paper.

  18. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    Salamander

    As I discovered, it’s testing that is the key.
    A lot of govt IT balls-ups come about because the programmers are often still hacking away when the under-secretary for Paper-Fasteners (paper-clips) comes to open the project and no one has tested the program.

    The hardware is usually under-specced as well, because it is a visible capital cost as opposed to the overtime payments to coders in Bangalore.

  19. salamander,

    “But why is it that Government and public sector IT is just a fucking disaster zone?”

    It isn’t always, in fact, it’s quite infrequent. The disasters are reported on, the stuff that goes reasonably well rarely gets mentioned. And on the flip side, I could name a couple of large companies with IT projects that were delivered years (as in plural) late and sucked. But you don’t hear about them.

    But the problem is about the people doing the buying, as a general rule. It’s why outsourcing doesn’t work any better than old internal IT teams. If you go to a company that has no fucking clue what they’re doing (and frankly, there’s 2 huge consultancies I would never hire), if your people don’t understand the options available, you’ll have problems. I’m working with a company where their supplier hosts their own video instead of outsourcing it like a sensible person. And of course, they’ve paid handsomely for that to be built.

  20. Jim,

    “All very well to say ‘make a better computer system’, but the existing one had failed, and there was a deadline to get applications in by. What else could be done except send out paper forms? You can’t build and implement from design to going live to users an entirely new IT system of that complexity in 6 weeks flat, which is the time scale they were looking at last year.”

    That’s not what the article is saying. It’s implying that there was a large change of requirements, and you get a lot more than 6 weeks notice when anyone changes anything in government.

    But if it’s failed, you fix it. What does “failed” even mean here? There’s bugs in it? I’ve taken clusterfucked software and got it to a reasonable state in a couple of weeks. All hands to the pump, long days, but we got there.

  21. “What does “failed” even mean here?”

    What an excellent question.

    Changes often have to be made because the code is “too old”, or “breaking”, or whatever.

    People forget that code gets worn down at the edges and goes a bit shiny, or clogged with dust, or (worst of all), some or all of it gets left out in the rain and it rusts.

  22. “What does “failed” even mean here?”

    It means it won’t do what it was meant to do when users try to access it. Don’t forget this isn’t just a basic input portal that asks to data from users and then records that data, its attempting to marry existing databases of maps of field locations with historic data of field uses and divisions as provided by users in previous years and also to hold details of ‘entitlements’ held by each user (who needs a unique account). Its also attempting to record data on environmental features on the farm at the same time (this is part of the new subsidy system – a certain area of the farm has to be turned over the environmental uses, of which there are myriad, all of which need to be documented and detailed.) And all that data in the system needs to be accurate – zero errors, or it starts corrupting the applications.

    I have no idea how they got to within 4 weeks of a deadline for the users of the system (they had to have made their applications by 15th May) with a system that would not function, but they did. They didn’t have time to fix it, check it, then inform and educate the users on the new system, EU law dictates farm subsidy applications must be lodged by 15th May each year. The UK was granted a special dispensation to 15th June last year in order for the paper applications to be sent out and returned. The physically wasn’t time to turn the online system around.

    I actually never bothered attempting to use the online system last year, the reports were so uniformly bad that I knew there would have to be a rethink, and there was. There were by all accounts massive rows between the RPA staff and the parachuted in IT ‘experts’ from the Cabinet office – the RPA could see the shitstorm coming, but the IT people wouldn’t accept it wasn’t working:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/03/02/government_digital_service_criticised_commons_public_accounts_rural_payments_agency/

  23. Also, Anon is spot on about IT failure being a private sector problem as well (especially in the Corporate sector).

    The IT world is divided between the competent driving progress, and those enjoying the fruits of a massive middle-class welfare scheme.

    A large number of those in IT related fields, coders are probably a small minority these days, would add more value by staying at home.

    (My own company dropped over half a billion on a failed system last year. It’s only money).

  24. I wish some farmer would use the FOI Act to demand that the RPA identify the clerk who input wrong codes from his paper form and the sue her for the full amount of the fine plus compensation for excessoverdraft fees, bank charges and “pain and suffering”.

  25. Jack C,

    “The IT world is divided between the competent driving progress, and those enjoying the fruits of a massive middle-class welfare scheme.

    A large number of those in IT related fields, coders are probably a small minority these days, would add more value by staying at home.”

    I’d say that at least half of women in IT are doing bullshit jobs. Jobs like “delivery managers” and “change management” people, who are just glorified bureaucrats. Most of the women I’ve worked for as project managers were useless. Basically, took what I told them and put it into a Power Point or report. If I told them something would take 2 weeks and they didn’t like the answer, they could do nothing but look angry. They had no idea if 2 weeks was reasonable, couldn’t go through it with me to break it down and see ways to do something quicker.

  26. “Most of the women I’ve worked for as project managers were useless.”

    🙂

    I’m not “career” IT, but I remember a conversation with one such young lady (cause I was curious) – asked her re policies re protecting PCs: LUAs, SRPs / white listing, sandboxes, and all that – and her response was, and I quote her quite literally: “I haven’t got a fucking clue what you’re talking about”…

  27. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Aggregating data from disparate sources is among the hardest of hard IT problems. It’s basically what fucked Obamacare and the NHS spine.

  28. “I’d say that at least half of women in IT are doing bullshit jobs.”

    I think the standard male v female bell curves apply.

    The best and worst tend to men.

    The biggest single problem, in my experience, is that people Just Don’t Fucking Check Things Anymore.

    The problem with the worst men is that they believe themselves much too grand for that sort of thing.

  29. I wish some farmer would use the FOI Act to demand that the RPA identify the clerk who input wrong codes from his paper form and the sue her for the full amount of the fine plus compensation for excessoverdraft fees, bank charges and “pain and suffering”.

    In my very limited experience, I believe state bureaucracies protect themselves by:

    1) Insisting only the bureaucracy can be sued, not the individual; and
    2) Capping the damages which can be awarded to less than what it would cost to hire a lawyer to bring a case.

  30. @Tim Newman: and 3) Having a lot more money than individuals to keep throwing at appeals etc each time they lose. Plus 4) Having judges who will (eventually) find in favour of the State regardless of the actual law if it would mean the State was seriously inconvenienced or indeed compromised (if individual State employees were able to be easily sued for their incompetence the State would collapse in short order). Judges know which side their bread is buttered. They may embarrass the State with their rulings but they never weaken it.

  31. @ Jack C
    *I* check things (but then I’m not a comptometer operator in RPA). It isn’t difficult to add a cross-check column to a spreadsheet which will show up 90+% of typos. (Sadly it doesn’t work on blogs without a spellcheck function).

  32. Bloke in Costa Rica

    “Abolish all farm subsidies.” Well, yes. “[…]subsidy payments can make all the difference between survival or going under.” This tells us that there are farmers who could be more productively occupied doing something else and would be were it not for rigging the market. Yes, it would individually be dreadful for them and that should be recognised, but in the long run we’d be better off.

  33. And the displaced workers for the RPA can pop over to HMRC and help with answering the ‘phones.

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