Opinion: Our ‘course culture’ has gone too far

I am sitting at my desk with my phone on loudspeaker listening to delightful canned music while waiting for HMRC to answer.

I am going to see if I can draft this whole article before they deign to pick up the phone. I have already spent over an hour waiting to speak to my payroll software advisor. When I did get through, we agreed that the new government RTI payment scheme was illogical and nonsensical and they suggested that I ring HMRC.

Real-time payments of PAYE and NI – great idea, if you have fantastically fast broadband connection and not one that flits in and out depending on whether or not the youngest daughter is revising for her AS levels or is really downloading the latest horror film under the guise of ‘research’. Having missed the closing date for the year-end, I now have to correct each member of staff one by one – I can hear George Osborne now: “No batch submissions for you, my lass. as you are wicked, wicked, wicked!” I am in a complete mess and feel totally helpless.

I am not an accountant. I have rubbish broadband. I have a degree. I am fairly practical. I run a successful business employing 34 people. I should not have to spend hours trying to collect taxes for this government. Message for George: next time you want to try out an online tax scheme, please test-drive using 50-year-olds with a modicum of numeracy skills and no time – we promise to give you our honest opinion as to whether or not it works.

Hooray – part way through the article and HMRC answered. A delightful lady sympathised completely and then told me to ring my software advisor back. I am now going to drown myself in a coffee and a big slab of the new fruit cake that Kirstie has just made for the farm shop – all in the interests of quality control, of course.

My trail manager and the apprentice have had to undertake a knapsack-spraying course. My brain tells me that it’s a good idea and that we should all learn about dangerous chemicals and how to use them. However, this course took two days to complete plus an extra exam on a third day. They both passed the exam. Now, ignorant as I am, surely knapsack-spray operatives should be taught how to handle sprays properly (whatever they are using), how to spray and how to clean the equipment safely and dispose of chemicals. Does this really take two days? Is it really necessary for my staff to take an extra morning to take an exam?

The current husband is undertaking a rabbit-gassing exam today (again, an extra morning to do the exam). He worked out at breakfast that between him and Carl, his right-hand man, they have 53 years of experience in gassing rabbits. Yes, they need to be reminded of the dangers and updates on the new records to be kept, but they have practical experience, which should be taken into account. The examiner told them about the effects of the abolition of grandfather rights. One gentleman of 75 was taking the PA2 course and, when questioned why his business partner couldn’t take the course instead, told the trainer that his partner was 85.

My intermediate hygiene course took three days. Yes, we need to know about cross-contamination and, yes, we need to be scared into good hygiene, but I really, really do not need to know about the anatomy of a bacterium. I need to know how to keep my premises clean and tidy. One day is all it should take. One girl in my class was Chinese and spoke not a word of English. Her boyfriend read her the questions. She passed, having not understood a word. It really makes a mockery of the whole process.

This whole ‘course-led system’ is certainly providing jobs for trainers, but has anyone worked out the loss in productivity as a result of over-long courses? We are all so scared of being sued that we blindly accept and pay for these courses.

Payment is now being extracted everywhere. The local Environmental Heath departments are considering charging £500 for statutory inspections. Cynic that I am, perhaps our visits will increase from every 18 months to every six months as they will now be employing more people? I am already paying employers’ NI, business rates, VAT, licences to play music, a licence to sell alcohol, recycling fees, waste fees and will soon be topping up pensions for my employees. This is just another tax.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of this country. So, David Cameron, if you want to collect more taxes, help us make more by letting us concentrate on our businesses, by test-driving new initiatives on normal people and allowing our staff to learn new skills quickly and efficiently. If I hadn’t spent most of today on hold, who knows how much else I may have achieved?

Thank heavens for HMRC and my software provider. I might never have got this article written in time otherwise. I might have been doing some real work.

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