Friday, 12 December 2014

wearing my treasurer's hat

The trouble with banks closing branches from a customer service point of view is that customers who still need to go to the bank have to go to one of the remaining branches.  I had some beekeepers' money to pay in before the end of the year, and as the branch I used to use in Brightlingsea no longer exists I used one in the suburbs of Colchester, where I'd be able to park for free and could incorporate the trip into a visit to the supermarket, albeit by a strange and looping route.  When I arrived there were a dozen people ahead of me in the queue, which reached to the door, and it didn't get any shorter all the time that I was waiting.

Banks and big businesses are keen on us moving to a cashless world, but there are situations where you need cash.  Maybe one day I'll be equipped for free with an electronic card reader, and the beekeepers will be able to swipe their pre-paid cards to pay fifty pence for their tea and biscuit or a pound for a strip of raffle tickets.  Maybe, but not yet.  Phone to phone payment is just beginning to take off, but there's absolutely no way we're using that for tea and raffles.  There are situations where cash is the clear and obvious thing, except that then somebody has to take it to the bank.

I had made life very slightly more arduous for myself by taking the opportunity to swap the beekeepers' one and two pound coins, so useful for car park machines, for our accumulated stock of one and two pence pieces, so heavy to carry around that they collect inexorably in pots and boxes in the bottom of the Systems Administrator's wardrobe, which is where I found them while clearing up during the Great Moth Disaster.  And then failed to pay them all in to the bank, because they were so damned heavy to lug about.  My wrists were aching by the time I got to the front of the queue, where the bank teller remained admirably unruffled by the fact that I wanted to pay in over thirty pounds in coins with a maximum face value of fifty pence.  They were properly counted and bagged up, so it didn't really take that long, on the other hand the queue was still stretching back to the door when I left.

The annual Gift Aid declaration was more of a fiddle, since according to the County Treasurer the Inland Revenue needs to know the name and address of all members making a Gift Aid declaration, plus the date of payment.  Why the exact date?  Run a list of names and postcodes through a database possibly, to check that these people exist and are taxpayers, but what earthly difference does it make if their subscription went though the bank on the seventeenth of January versus the twenty-ninth, or the third of February.  Is anyone from the Inland Revenue really going to spend any time checking that?  If so then why?  And if not then why do I have to spend my time reconciling membership forms and bank statements to produce the information?  I am quite in favour of Gift Aid, since charities that receive more public support get more from the taxpayer, which seems democratic, but it has a terribly high ratio of administrative faff to tax relief policed.

Somebody on the Today programme this morning was suggesting that the value of voluntary work should be added to measures of GDP, to make it a more accurate reflection of activity in Britain. The argument seemed to go that now we included drug trafficking and prostitution, why exclude volunteers?  And that policy tends to focus only on what's measured.  I wasn't really listening, as I was hanging up the laundry at the time, but I didn't feel in my bones that it was a runner.  A beautiful idea, maybe, to dignify voluntary work and give it more prominence in public policy by counting it as part of economic activity, but how do you measure it?  It would just be a big made-up number.  Economic data isn't very accurate and people don't believe in it very much as it is. Adding ever more estimated and frankly invented data would only make the problem worse.

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